Internal MoD briefing on British drones reveals push to capture public opinion

An internal briefing on British drones by the leading RAF staff officer working on the controversial weapon system stresses the need for the MoD to develop a “communication strategy” to win over public opinion in support of armed drones.  As part of such a strategy, MoD Air Staff officer Wing Commander Chris Thirtle urges the MoD to “stress the equivalence of [drones] to traditional combat aircraft.”

The MoD’s Defence Current Issues Briefing on Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones, comes just three months after the MoD think tank the Development, Concepts and  Doctrine Centre issued The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems which saw clear differences between manned and unmanned  aircraft saying for example “inevitably, some unmanned aircraft activities will face legal challenge, or create moral and ethical dilemmas….”

Click to view MoD's Current Issues Briefing on RPAS (drones)

As well as stressing the importance of public opinion, the presentation also reveals some new details about British drones, including:

  • Official confirmation that RAF 39 Squadron who control British Reapers over Afghanistan from the Nevada desert will be returning from the US to work alongside the new drone squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire
  • That 2 out of 3 weapons fired from British drones are Hellfire missiles
  • That the five additional Reaper drones to be purchased from General Atomics will be in service by 2013, increasing drone flying hours in Afghanistan to 72 hours per day

While the MoD is apparently busy developing its public communications strategy on armed drones, I am still awaiting communication in response to my January 2011 request under the Freedom of Information Act for information about the 124 people killed by British drones in Afghanistan.

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