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
|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|Oct 17, 2015||MQ-Reaper||ZZ201||Undisclosed||FoI||Withdrawn from service|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|Oct 16, 2014||Watchkeeper||WH031||Aberporth||FoI||Withdrawn in Jan 2015|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.