British Reaper drone crashed after landing at undisclosed location in December 2021

UK Reaper drone ZZ209, damaged in a December 2021 accident, seen here being delivered to the RAF in Afghanistan in 2014.

A British Reaper drone crashed after landing on 1st December 2021 the MoD has revealed in a Freedom of Information response to Drone Wars UK.

The crash is the sixth ‘mishap’ that has occurred to the UK’s armed Reaper UAV fleet since the system came into service in 2008. At least 20 large (Class II and III) military drones operated by UK armed forces have crashed in the last 15 years. The latest accident came less than a month after a newly purchased Reaper came into service to  with the intention of bringing the UK’s fleet back up to its full strength of ten.

While the MoD is refusing to disclose the location of the accident for national security reasons, unless it was an improvised or emergency landing – of if UK Reapers have been deployed to an additional location for operations outside of Iraq and Syria – it is likely to have been at the Ali Al Salem air base in Kuwait where the UK’s Reapers are believed to be based.

The MoD state that the accident was caused by the “failure of the nose wheel steering on landing.”  This indicates that the drone likely ran off the runway. The status of the drone, whether it is repairable, and, if so, how long it will be out of service, is still “under investigation”. 

Crashes of UK military drones

Date Type Tail No. Where Source Status
Dec 1, 2021 MQ-9 Reaper ZZ209 Undisclosed FoI Unknown
Oct 14, 2020 Watchkeeper WK044 Cyprus Press Unknown
Sep 28, 2019 Zephyr Z8B-03 Australia Press Destroyed
Mar 15, 2019 Zephyr N/A Australia Press Destroyed
Jun 13, 2018 Watchkeeper N/A Aberporth Press Destroyed
Mar 24, 2017 Watchkeeper N/A Irish Sea Press Destroyed
Feb 3, 2017 Watchkeeper N/A Irish Sea Press Destroyed
Aug 16, 2016 MQ-9 Reaper ZZ205 Undisclosed FoI Repaired
Oct 17, 2015 MQ-Reaper ZZ201 Undisclosed FoI Withdrawn from service
Nov 2, 2015 Watchkeeper WK006 Salisbury Press Destroyed
Oct 16, 2014 Watchkeeper WH031 Aberporth FoI Withdrawn in Jan 2015
Oct 4, 2013 Hermes 450 ZK517 Afghanistan FoI Retired in 2014
Sep 5, 2013 Hermes 450 ZK518 Afghanistan FoI Retired in 2014
July 22, 2012 Hermes 450 ZK506 Afghanistan FoI Destroyed
Mar 31, 2012 MQ-9 Reaper ZZ203 Afghanistan FoI Repaired
Oct 2, 2011 Hermes 450 Zk515 Afghanistan FoI Destroyed
Jun 3, 2010 Hermes 450 ZK512 Afghanistan FoI Destroyed
May 21, 2010 Hermes 450 ZK516 Afghanistan FoI Destroyed
May 2, 2010 MQ-9 Reaper ZZ202 Afghanistan FoI Repaired
Jun 2 2009 Hermes 450 ZK513 Afghanistan FoI Destroyed
Apr 09, 2008 MQ-9 Reaper N/A Afghanistan Press Destroyed
Jan 13, 2008 Hermes 450 N/A Iraq Wikileaks ‘Major damage’
Safe for UK flight?

The MoD intends to fly its new ‘Protector’ drones, due to come into service in late 2023, in UK air space from the mid-2020s.  It is trying to persuade both the Civil Airspace Authority (CAA) and the public that flying such large drones beyond visual line of sight within UK airspace is safe.  However a 2021 poll of 2,000 members of the public,  commissioned by our sister organisation UK Drone Watch, found that 67% of respondents were worried about the safety implications of BVLOS drone flights, while 70% agreed that if such drones were allowed to be flown in the UK, they should be flown in segregated airspace away from other aircraft.  Earlier this month, the CAA rejected the MoD’s latest airspace change proposal with the CAA telling the MoD the design principles needed to be reconsidered.

The MoD’s FoI response reported that, as of 1st January 2022, the MOD had 24 Watchkeeper and nine Reaper UAVs in service.

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