UK increases drone missions in Syria

Armed RAF Reaper Aircraft Approaches Kandahar Airfield, AfghanistanThe MoD has released new data on UK drone operations in Iraq and Syria to Drone Wars in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Figures for the second quarter of 2015 show a significant rise in the number of Reaper drone flights in Syria since the beginning of the year.  In January just over 10% of UK Reaper drone sorties took place in Syrian airspace.  In June 2015 this had risen to 40%.

This may be attributable to more UK Reapers having apparently been sent to the region.  However while the number of monthly UK drone missions in the area has increased slightly (by around 10-15%) the number of drone missions solely within Iraq has dropped between January 2015 to June 2015 by a quarter.  This could be just a blip, but it could also give evidence to those who argue that any new UK focus on ISIS in Syria will simply take away from operations within Iraq.

 

UK Reaper operations in Iraq and Syria (Jan – Jun 2015)
Month UK Reaper Missions solely in Iraq UK Reaper Missions entering Syria Total  UK Reaper   missions % of UK Reaper missions in Syria UK Reaper Missions releasing weapons in Iraq No. of strikes from UK Reapers in Iraq Weapons from UK Reapers in Iraq
Jan 2015 63 8 71 11% 12 25 33
Feb 2015 59 8 67 12% 7 12 13
Mar 2015 62 14 76 18% 13 17 18
Apr 2015 59 20 79 25% 11 13* 18
May 2015 59 25 84 30% 16 20* 28
Jun 2015 48 32 80 40% 10 10* 11
Total 350 107 457 23% 69 97* 121

*UK have revised the way they calculate strikes to bring in line with US figures (see  here).

 

The latest figures also shows that UK Reapers – constantly billed as for ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’ – continue to launch strikes in Iraq at virtually the same rate as the UK’s dedicated strike aircraft, the Tornado.  Although the UK has changed the way it calculates air strikes, according to MoD figures from 9 November when both Reaper and Tornado aircraft have been carrying out strikes to 30 June 2015, Tornados carried out 140 strikes giving a strike rate of 4.2 per week, while Reapers have carried out 130 strikes giving a strike rate of 3.9 per week.

 

UK air strikes in Iraq Sept 14 – June 2015

Month Tornado Reaper
Sep 14 2 0
Oct 14 15 0
Nov 14 20 20
Dec 14 20 13
Jan 15 21 25
Feb 15 12 12
Mar 15 25 17
Apr 15 13 13
May 15 14 20
Jun 15 18 10
Total 160 130

Note: Figures for Apr-Jun 2015 use different methodology

While there have apparently been no direct weapon launches from UK drones within Syria the MoD has refused two separate information requests from us seeking data on the number of strikes facilitated by UK Reaper drones by means of laser designation, surveillance support or tracking of targets.  We will of course continue to pursue this information.

 



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