US drone manufacturer General Atomics is to fly one of the updated versions of the Predator drone – dubbed SkyGuardian by the company but named as the ‘Protector’ by the MoD – into the UK next month. The drone will undertake a 20 hour flight from the company’s test centre in North Dakota direct to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, arriving on 11 July to be part of the static display at the Fairford International Air Show later that week (13 – 15 July). It will be the first transatlantic flight for a medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone. Read more
The Ministry of Defence has revealed for the first time – seemingly accidentally – that British drones are firing thermobaric weapons in Syria. The disclosure comes in an Freedom of Information (FoI) response to Drone Wars detailing the use of Reaper drones over the previous three months.
In the response, officials give a breakdown of the type of Hellfire missiles fired, stating that 19 AGM-114N4 and 44 AGM-114R2 had been used. Read more
For the first time, the Ministry of Defence has admitted a civilian death in its air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The strike, from an RAF Reaper drone, occurred on 26 March according to a written statement by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. The strike itself was reported by the MoD on its website on 4 April. It stated:
A Reaper tracked a group of terrorists in a vehicle in the Syrian Euphrates valley on Monday 26 March, and successfully destroyed it and its occupants with a precision Hellfire missile attack.
Over the past few years States, international organisations and civil society groups have expressed concern about the increasing proliferation and use of armed drones. To illustrate what is happening, Drone Wars has compiled details of the use of armed drones in the first three months of 2018. Due to both the lack of transparency by operators and the difficulty of reporting strikes from the remote locations where they often occur, this survey is undoubtedly incomplete. In addition the fact that multiple nations are operating armed drones to launch strikes against differing groups in Syria (US, UK, Israel, Turkey and Iran) and Yemen (US, UAE and Saudi Arabia) makes attribution and accountability for strikes there almost impossible. Nevertheless this short survey (1 Jan 2018 – 31 March 2018) gives something of an insight into the use of armed drones by multiple operators to launch strikes in multiple countries. Read more
Analysis of figures released in response to Freedom of Information requests by Drone Wars UK indicate that the UK has spent £1.75bn on armed air missions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. It should be noted that the overall cost of UK military operations in Iraq and Syria will be much higher.
Strikingly, the data shows that at £268 million, the cost alone of the weapons fired over the last 3½ years is more than the total amount the UK has spent on humanitarian assistance in Iraq (£210 million) in the same time period. The full cost of flying the UK’s armed aircraft (Tornado, Typhoon and Reaper) for more than 42,000 hours is almost £1.5 billion. Read more
After a lengthy delay in responding to our FoI requests, the MOD has now provided data on UK air operations in Iraq and Syria for the second half of 2017. For our updated complete set of figures for UK air operations in Iraq and Syria since 2014 see here.
As ISIS collapses in Iraq, Syria becomes UK focus
The newly released figures show just how much the focus of UK air operations switched from Iraq to Syria during 2017. In 2016, 74% of UK armed air missions took place in Iraq with just over a quarter in Syria. In 2017 the numbers were almost the reverse, with 68% of armed missions taking place in Syria and only 32% in Iraq.