The UK continued to use its current drone fleet while progressing future armed drone programmes during the year. Here’s a round-up of some of the main news from 2016
UK drones in Iraq and Syria
British Reaper drones continued to operate over Iraq and Syria throughout the year as part of US-led Coalition to defeat ISIS. However we are not allowed to know exactly how many of Britain’s fleet are deployed there, or indeed, if any have been deployed elsewhere. In spring 2016 there was a noticeable decline in Reaper missions in Iraq and Syria which could indicate that some of the drones had been deployed elsewhere (perhaps for operations over Libya for example) although this remains speculation without further information. Read more →
As was the case five years ago when we looked at drones and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), yesterday’s publication of the 2015 SDSR brought some information, but little detail.
The headline announcement in this area – that the UK is to at least double its fleet of armed drones – was ‘pre-announced’ by the Prime Minister last month in an interview with the Sunday Times. The SDSR adds little new information, stating simply that the UK will have “more than 20 new Protector armed remotely piloted aircraft, more than doubling the number of the Reaper aircraft which they replace.” (Para 4.49) Read more →
General Atomics though were in town mainly to pitch their new drone, Avenger, an upgrade of the Predator and Reaper to the RAF. Avenger had its first flight in April 2010 and is now in flight testing. Aviation Week revealed more detail about Avenger including that it will be produced in different variants.
Drone downed by Laser
Farnborough was also the setting for the news that Raytheon had downed a drone (four actually) by laser. This also gained much coverage (including this wonderfully daft article in the Sun). “This was a bad day for UAVs, and a good one for laser technology,” said Raytheon Missile Systems’ vice-president, Mike Booen in the Guardian.
Zephyr, the Qinetiq developed solar unmanned drone completed its record breaking 14 day flight on 22nd July. Launched by hand, the 22 metre wingspan aircraft flies by day on solar power which is then used to recharge the lithium-sulphur batteries, which are used to power the aircraft by night. Although Qinetiq is a British company, the flight trial took place at a US military range in Arizona as the US military are very interested in the aircraft that can provide low-cost, non-stop surveillance over months rather than days.
Speaking to the BBC about Zephyr, which has been dubbed the ‘eternal drone’, project manager Jon Slatmarsh cut to the chase: “Qinetiq is now looking to the Ministry of Defence and the DoD (US Department of Defense) to put a system into service.”
A briefing by Thales UK business manager at the Airshow led to the Telegraph headline ‘’Watchkeeper drone can detect footprints from above clouds’. The reality is as the Register reported, the Anglo-French I-MASTER radar on Watchkeeper “allows images of the same piece of ground from different times to be compared – detecting vehicle tracks and even footprints which may have been left since the first image was taken.”