> our title:

New UK Reaper Drones Remain Grounded

> original title:

UK’s New Reaper Drones Remain Grounded, Months Before Afghan Withdrawal

(Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism; published May 22, 2014)

Like the Watchkeeper tactical UAV, five additional Reaper MALE drones ordered by the UK in December 2010 for urgent deployment to Afghanistan will not be in service when British troops pull out at year’s end. (MoD photo)

Five new Reaper drones announced by David Cameron in December 2010 to support British troops in Afghanistan are still not yet in operation, the Bureau can reveal.

The new drones were bought as an urgent purchase and were part of a £135m package intended to effectively double the size of the UK’s fleet of armed drones in Afghanistan, and its surveillance capacity. But more than three years after the purchase was announced, and with just months to go before the UK’s troops are due to leave the conflict, the additional Reapers are yet to take to the skies.

The delay has meant that British armed forces have had to cope without what then-defence secretary Liam Fox called a ‘significant increase in air surveillance’ that would help protect front-line troops from threats such as roadside bombs.

News of the delay comes after a report by MPs on the defence select committee, published in March, found that lengthy delays in the £1bn development of the Watchkeeper surveillance drone, commissioned in 2005, meant that it was unlikely to be used in operations in Afghanistan. The aircraft was originally predicted to be operational by 2010. The committee’s report called on the MoD to explain the delays.

Labour MP and former defence minister Tom Watson told the Bureau: ‘“Urgent Operational Requirements” are meant to be used for emergencies in combat zones. This revelation, that approximately £100m of taxpayers’ money used has been used to purchase equipment that may never be used in Afghanistan, is a scandal at a time when service personnel are being made redundant.’

The expansion of Britain’s armed drone fleet has been in the works a long time: in December 2010 David Cameron announced a plan to double the UK’s Reaper capacity, including the purchase of five new aircraft and three ground control stations. Reaper is produced by US defence company General Atomics.

But the manufacturing was delayed because the demands of the US Air Force, which was ordering multiple additional Reapers of its own, took precedence over the British order, a defence spokesman told the Bureau. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the BIJ website.