Preditor Reaper in Action 13 and 39 Sqn RAF WADDINGTON
Britain decided to stand up a full Reaper flight in late 2007, after positive early experience with 3 unarmed MQ-9s in Afghanistan. The British initially saw the MQ-9 only as a high-end surveillance drone to complement their mid-range , and short-range Desert Hawk external link and RQ-11 Raven mini-UAVs. That changed, as the RAF eventually bought 10 Reapers – and armed them…
The MQ-9 in RAF Service
MQ-1 Predator vs MQ-9 Predator-B MQ-1 vs. MQ-9
(click to view full)
The MQ-9 Reaper’s 66 foot wingspan is larger than its companion MQ-1s, and its reinforced wings give it far greater weapons carrying capacity of 3,000 pounds. Since most manned jet fighters aren’t carrying that many precision weapons for close support missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, that limit lets the MQ-9 fulfill close-air support roles in most low-intensity conflicts.
Flight time is estimated at around 23 hours in armed mode, which is far longer than any manned fighter. The engine is a Honeywell TPE 331-10T, which pushes it along at 240 knots. Not exactly a Tornado GR4 substitute, but the Reaper’s extra speed does get it to the problem area about twice as fast as a Predator can.
An MQ-9’s service ceiling is reportedly 50,000 feet unless it’s fully loaded, which can make a lurking Reaper very difficult to find from the ground. They generally operate at lower altitudes than that, but the ability to drop GPS and laser-guided bombs makes precision high altitude Reaper strikes perfectly plausible. American MQ-9s fired their first weapons in combat in 2007, conducting a precision Hellfire missile strike external link in Deh Rawod, Afghanistan, and followed that with a laser-guided bomb drop external link in the Sangin region. As of May 2008, British MQ-9s have also been armed.
As one might expect, the MQ-9 Reaper’s default sensor package is a bit more capable than the MQ-1 family’s. Raytheon’s MTS-B external link (AN/AAS-52) surveillance and targeting turret is more advanced, and General Atomics’ AN/APY-8 Lynx I external link ground-looking SAR/GMTI radar is standard.
A total fatigue limit of 20,000 safe flight hours is about double that of a life-extended fighter jet, and around 20% higher than an EMB-314/ A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency turboprop. They’re also much less expensive to fly, compared to less persistent fighter jets that cost GBP 7 – 10 thousand per flight hour to fuel and maintain. The flip side is that UAVs have about twice as many accidents as manned fighters.
As of 2013, 1 of Britain’s Reapers has been lost in a crash. It has not been replaced, leaving a fleet of 9. Britain already has a full set of infrastructure in place, so replacement would probably cost $13 – 17 million, depending on what they chose to buy as part of the package.

Contracts & Key Events
2014
Parliamentary report includes evolved Reaper options; Brimstone firings successful; All 10 deployed in Afghanistan.
Oct 16/14: To Iraq. Britain can’t do much with its Reapers back in the UK (q.v. May 12/14), so it’s probably just as well that they’re desperately needed to fend off advancing Islamic State (Daesh) troops from Kurdish and Shi’ite areas of Iraq. There’s no word about basing, but Akrotiri in Cyprus is certainly not on. They’re going to need a place that’s far closer to the front lines. A hint?
“The deployment of Reaper to the Middle East coincides with the conclusion of the first UK training programme for Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq.”
Sources: RAF, “UK Deploys Reaper To The Middle East”.

July 29/14: Report. The UK government responds to the Commons Defence committee’s RPAS report (q.v. March 11/14). The response confirms that Britain has sometimes asked to divert an American Reaper for specific situations, but never the other way around. In general, it stresses that the issues around the laws of war, targeted killing, etc. are non-issues as far as they’re concerned. The Reapers are under British control, and subject to British procedures, end of story. As for the Brimstone missile trials, they were just trials, with no firm intent to add them to Britain’s Reapers at this point. Beyond the MQ-9:

“[The] SCAVENGER [program] will replace UK Reaper RPAS towards the end of this decade. The programme will develop a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS, providing the UK Armed Forces with a theatre-wide, persistent ISR capability, with the ability to identify, monitor and if necessary attack land and maritime targets.
SCAVENGER is currently in the Assessment Phase during which lessons from the Department’s other related programmes, including Watchkeeper, will be taken into account. A particular issue that will be focused on during the Assessment Phase will be certification for the air vehicles to fly in UK / European airspace, not least so that it will be possible to train on the system in the UK.”
On the other hand, continued budget squeezes make retrofits along the lines of the American MQ-9 Block 5/-ER very thinkable as a continuing solution. We’ll see. Sources: UK House of Commons Select Committee on Defense external link, “Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use – Defence Committee: Government Response”.
July 7/14: All deployed. Britain’s follow-on order of 5 more MQ-9 Reaper UAVs has been deployed to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and assembled on site. This gives them 9 Reapers in Afghanistan.

The UK MoD says that in over 54,000 hours of operations using Reaper in Afghanistan, only 459 weapons have been fired, which is less than one weapon for every 120 hours of flying. A Parliamentary answer gives a different figure, but it only covers strikes since March 2011. Those totals involve 317 Reaper strikes, vs. just 71 for fixed-wing aircraft. That comparison is skewed by the fact that Britain withdrew its Harriers from service and sold them to the USMC in June 2011, leaving only a few Tornado GR4 strike aircraft for service in theater. With that said, the operational disparity plus the flight cost disparity speak loudly. Sources: UK MoD, “New RAF Reapers take to the skies” | UK Hansard, “House of Commons Written Answers 7 July 2014 (Column 138W)”.

May 12/14: Politics. The British are debating the next move for their MQ-9 Reaper fleet after Afghanistan, and a formal letter from MP Tom Watson [Lab – West Bromwich East] raises concerns that the Reaper deployment could avoid Parliamentary scrutiny “on the basis that use of remotely operated systems do not necessarily require physical deployment of UK troops because they can be operated from the UK.” That does need to be sorted out.

The linked kerfuffle over the presence of 3 British officers within the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) at Camp Lenoinier, Djibouti, is unexceptional by itself. A number of American allies have a presence there, not least because it’s a key location for coordinating anti-piracy activities. Indeed, British ScanEagle naval drones are already operational in that area. What’s triggering the debate is a statement by a UN official named Ben Emmerson, citing “sources close to the MoD” who say that the Reapers could be sent to Africa or the Middle East for future operations. “Could” means nothing, but the expectation that such deployments will be debated first is an important principle of free societies.

Meanwhile, the retirement of the Nimrod fleet leaves a severe need for maritime surveillance around Britain. Reapers could be very useful in that role, but they’re running into the recurring issue of civil airspace clearance. Until a solution is agreed, British Civil Aviation Authority restrictions will make it hard to bring the Reapers home. Sources: The Guardian, “UK troops working with US military at base for Yemen drone operations”.

March 26/14: Weapons. An MQ-9 successfully finishes December 2013 – January 2014 tests at US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA, firing MBDA’s dual-mode radar/laser Brimstone missile against a variety of targets. It was a cooperative effort between Britain and the United States, and all of the RAF’s primary and secondary trial objectives were met:

“The firings were taken from realistic ‘middle of the envelope’ profiles; typically 20,000ft release altitude and 7km – 12km plan range, with the platform being remotely piloted in operationally representative beyond line of sight (SATCOM) conditions, with tracking and designation of targets being conducted in a mixture of manual-track and auto-track modes.

BRIMSTONE scored nine direct hits in a range of very challenging scenarios including static, accelerating, weaving, fast and very fast remotely controlled targets. Two of the more challenging scenarios were against trucks travelling at 70mph in a crossing target scenario. At times, the targets were manually tracked by the REAPER crews, showing how the integrated Semi-Active Laser and Active MMW radar seeker works in tandem to ensure direct hits, even while tracking and designating targets manually over SATCOM. Every Operational and Telemetry missile performed as designed.”

The Brimstone is similar to the Reaper’s regular laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire, with a slightly longer range, a fire-and-forget radar seeker, and the ability to deploy on fast jets. Consolidating on the Brimstone would let the RAF use a single weapon type for short-range light strike. Sources: MBDA, “MBDA’s Brimstone Demonstrates its Precision Low Collateral Capability from Reaper”.

March 11/14: Report. The UK House of Commons Defense Committee releases Volume 1 of “Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use external link.” With respect to Britain’s MQ-9 fleet, the report reiterates interest in Brimstone integration, notes that current RAF Reaper squadrons are operating at minimum personnel, and suggests that all-UK training and sensor additions are important areas where Britain needs to become more involved. In reality, neither of these areas is likely to see significant changes in the short term. Over the longer term, they’re right about the importance of these 2 areas. For instance, the UK MoD’s “Scavenger” program involved:

“…deep and persistent armed ISR collection from 2018 to 2030”, as a replacement for Reaper. The programme is “pre-Initial Gate”, which means that the concept is still in development and options are being assessed…. The MoD told us: The Scavenger Assessment Phase is focused on maturing and de-risking the solesource acquisition of a future variant of Reaper, as a Military-Off-The-Shelf solution. The UK is still considering acquisition options to satisfy its Scavenger capability requirement, including retaining its Reaper as a Core Capability. Nothing has been ruled out and UK remains open to considering cooperative options.”

Finally, as one might imagine, the committee wants absolute clarity around UK-only operation of its Reapers within the “combined fleet” of American and British MQ-9s.

2011 – 2013
All 10 to deploy to Afghanistan; Crash reported; GA-ASI creates British subsidiary; Brimstone missiles for RAF Reapers?; 2nd RAF squadron formed, but Reaper deliveries delayed; New control center in Britain.

Dec 31/13: UK Support. A sole-source, unfinalized $31.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price option for Phase 1 & 2 contractor logistics support: urgent repairs and services, logistics support, field service representative support, contractor inventory control point and spares management, depot repair, flight operations support and field maintenance.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The USAF acts as Britain’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080, 09).

Sept 15/13: Delays. IHS Jane’s 360:

“Delivery of the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) final five General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is being held back by several months due to delays in clearing engineering modifications that have been made to the aircraft. RAF officers now expect the [new] Reapers will not be fielded in Afghanistan until mid-2014.”

May 3/13: Brimstone for Reapers? With JAGM fielding still some way off, if ever, the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group rapid acquisition office is reportedly interested in adding MBDA’s longer-range, dual laser/ MW radar guided Brimstone missile external link to the MQ-9’s arsenal. Its main attraction is a ‘man in the loop’ feature that lets the firing aircraft abort an attack after launch, or correct a missile that locks on the wrong target. In Libya, those characteristics reportedly made it one of the few weapons NATO commanders could use to hit enemy armored vehicles in urban areas.

Brimstone already serves on RAF Tornado GR4 strike jets, and was an option for Britain’s Harrier GR9s before the entire fleet was sold to the US Marines. With Britain’s MQ-9s deployed, they’ve reportedly asked for tests using USAF MQ-9s. With the USA’s JAGM missile program stalled, Britain also hopes to interest American armed services in a longer-range and more versatile weapon. Defense News external link | Defense Update external link.,
Feb 13/13: Crashes. The Guardian reports external link the results of a freedom of Information request concerning British UAV crashes since 2007, which have cut the overall fleet in about half. Crashes include 1 of their 10 Reaper armed UAVs; 9 Hermes 450s (8 Afghanistan, 1 Iraq) over 75,000 flight hours; 412 Desert Hawk mini-UAVs over more than 30,000 missions; and 25 rotary wing RQ-16 Tarantula Hawk UAVs and Black Hornet mini-UAVs.

“Faced with a mounting bill for the crashes, and fewer UAVs to use, the MoD has admitted that it is trying “to increase airmanship standards in a number of areas” by updating training courses. But officials also insist the drones are being worked hard in difficult conditions, and breakdowns are to be expected…. Despite the high loss rate, the military believes the Desert Hawk still provides “indispensable and flexible” intelligence to UK ground forces - and value for money.”


Dec 20/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $42.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract for Phase 1 and 2 contractor logistics support to the British MQ-9 fleet.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA; Creech AFB, NV; Waddington, United Kingdom; and Afghanistan. Work is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/WIIK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Contract involves Foreign Military Sales to the United Kingdom (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080).

Oct 22/12: All 10 to deploy. The Guardian reports external link that XIII Squadron being stood up on Oct 26/12 will operate its 5 Reapers from a new control facility at RAFB Waddington. They’ll have 3 control terminals at Waddington, and all 5 UAVs will deploy to Afghanistan. The 5 Reapers already in service there will continue operation from the USAF’s Creech AFB, NV, but Britain wants to consolidate all of its MQ-9 operations to Waddington later on.

XIII Squadron’s deployment will place all 10 British Reapers in Afghanistan. The question is how many of them, if any, will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to eept 13/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $297 million cost plus fixed price, firm-fixed-price and time and materials contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor logistics support. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/12. The ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract.

The mystery revolves around who it’s for. The original Sept 10/12 release mistakenly said that the contract involved foreign military sales to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. The Sept 13/12 “correction” said it involved foreign military sales to the United Kingdom.

GA-ASI, who should know, says that neither of those descriptions is accurate. It finalizes a December 2011 contract to support the USAF and British RAF’s deployed MQ-1 and MQ-9 units, and includes field support representatives at remote sites. General Atomics is already 9 months into fulfilling it, and this is the revised dollar amount (FA8620-10-G-3038, 002403).

Sept 29/11: GCS. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA receives a $65 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for the Block 30 retrofit for 31 fixed ground control stations; plus 43 mobile ground control stations (MGCS); 24 dual control ground control stations; 1 multi-aircraft control ground control station; three system integration laboratories; 1 multi-aircraft control system integration laboratory; 26 Predator mission aircrew training systems; and associated spares. The contract also includes 3 MGCS for Foreign Military Sales to the United Kingdom (2%), who operates the firm’s MQ-9 Reaper UAVs.


May 16/11: 2nd Squadron. RAF Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, announces that Number XIII Squadron will transfer their designation to the RAF’s 2nd Reaper squadron in 2012.

He spoke these words at the squadron’s formal disbandment, less than 2 months after its GR4 Tornados opened the war in Libya by firing Storm Shadow cruise missiles on deep strike missions. UK MoD external link.

March 31/11: UK subsidiary. A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems UK Ltd (GA-UK) subsidiary is established with an office in London, managed by Dr. Jonny King. Britain has received 6 MQ-9s, and will grow that fleet to 10 as the December 2010 orders arrive. GA-ASI external link.

2008 - 2010
Britain submits DSCA request for 10, buys 5, then eventually buys 5 more; RAF deploys & arms its Reapers; UK-French cooperation.

Dec 7/10: Double up. Prime Minister David Cameron announces that Britain will “double” its current MQ-9 Reaper fleet, under a GBP 135 million (about $213 million) contract. That would complete its initial request for 10 UAVs. UK MoD external link | Flight International external link.

Fleet to 10?

Nov 2/10: Britain & France. The “UK-France Summit 2010 Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation external link” includes a proviso regarding MALE UAVs:

“16. Unmanned Air Systems have become essential to our armed forces. We have agreed to work together on the next generation of Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Air Surveillance Systems. Co-operation will enable the potential sharing of development, support and training costs, and ensure that our forces can work together. We will launch a jointly funded, competitive assessment phase in 2011, with a view to new equipment delivery between 2015 and 2020.”

As far as existing contenders go, this may weaken EADS’ Talarion external link even further, and probably gives BAE’s Mantis platform a boost, as BAE is reportedly in talks with Dassault external link.

Sept 10/10: Deployment. Britain has sent an extra MQ-9 Reaper UAV to Afghanistan external link:

“This latest addition to the Royal Air Force’s Reaper fleet will allow 39 Squadron to fly multiple Reaper aircraft at any one time over Afghanistan. A total of 36 hours of video surveillance can now be delivered in support of troops on the ground every day of the year, which marks an 80 per cent increase over the past 12 months. Reaper has been supporting ground forces in Afghanistan since October 2007 and has now flown over 13,000 hours in direct support of operations.”

May 19/10: Status. The UK MoD announces that The RAF’s MQ-9 Reaper program has now exceeded 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The MQ-9s are currently the British military’s only significant GA-ASI products. The release says that this arrangement “will develop support solutions that could be used by the UK MoD to offer increased flexibility and sovereignty over existing arrangements.” Immediate dividends will be small, but if competitors fail to match these kinds of arrangements, it could give General Atomics an important advantage as it seeks to sell more MQ-9s to Britain and offer other products like the derivative Mariner maritime UAV or other members of its signature Predator family. GA-ASI release external link | Cobham release external link [PDF].

July 14/08: Mantis vs. Reaper? The UK Ministry of Defence has also entered into a jointly funded 1st phase of the Mantis UAS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program with BAE Systems.

The mockup unveiled at the Farnborough 2008 air show shows a UAV that’s clearly in the MQ-9 Reaper’s class, with up to 6 weapons pylons for Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. The design looks less like a high-altitude strike UAV, however, and more like the offspring of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog” battlefield support plane and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara external link counter-insurgency aircraft.

BAE will work with the MoD and key UK industrial parties including Rolls-Royce (RB 250 turboprops for now), QinetiQ, GE Aviation, SELEX Galileo and Meggitt, and the design and manufacture of the twin-engine Mantis and associated ground control infrastructure are already underway. Assembly, vehicle ground testing and infrastructure integration testing will take place later in 2008, with first flight currently scheduled for early 2009. BAE release external link | Flight International external link | Defense Update | Defense News external link | Aviation Week external link | domain-B external link | WIRED Danger Room external link.
June 6/08: A British MoD article external link states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

Of course, to cross that line, the RAF has to own them. Looks like there was a contract. RAF 39 Squadron was reformed in January 2008, and operates from Creech AFB, NV alongside its USAF counterparts.

Hunter-Killers

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly external link reported that this request for Reaper UAVs has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no contract. As subsequent reports show, there was a contract.

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces external link [PDF] the United Kingdom’s official request for up to 10 MQ-9s, at a cost of up to $1.017 billion:

“10 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aircraft, 5 Ground Control Stations, 9 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B/AAS-52 external link), 9 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) systems, 3 Satellite Earth Terminal Sub Stations (SETSS), 30 H764 Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, Lynx SAR and MTS-B spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.”

The principal contractors would be General Atomics’ Aeronautical Systems (MQ-9) and Lynx Systems (Lynx ground scan radar) subsidiaries in San Diego, CA, and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B/AAS-52). If the contract goes through.

DSCA request: UK (10)

Nov 9/07: UK. The UK MoD publishes “Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan external link,” confirming that the RAF’s first MQ-9 has been deployed and is performing surveillance missions in theater. The UAVs will be operated by personnel from the RAF’s 39 Squadron Personnel, which in addition to the RAF personnel also has Army and Navy personnel working in a number of functional areas. The release adds that:

“The Reaper capability is still being developed. Training will continue alongside operational missions and there will be a steady build up to a full UK capability. The Reaper UAV is currently unarmed. It is capable of being armed and the MOD is investigating arming options.”

Britian arranged to buy a 3rd UAV in 2007 as part of the UK’s Urgent Operational Request, and all 3 MQ-9s were delivered into theater in October 2007.

Dec 1/06: Infrastructure. Britain decides to raise a Reaper squadron. Wing Commander Andrew Jeffrey, who is Director of air staff - UAV operations, tells an IQPC conference that approvals for the new squadron have been given within UK Ministry of Defence. The MQ-9s “will be fitted for, but not with, weapons”, and will be part of the UK-USAF Joint Predator Task Force located at Nellis AFB in Nevada. ‘A Flight’ will be involved in jointly operating USAF-owned Predator UAVs in Afghanistan and Iraq, while ‘B Flight’ operates the MQ-9s.

General Atomics has already begun work on the 2 UAVs ahead of contract signature, and Initial operational capability is expected to begin in Q3 2007. Sources: Flightglobal, “UK RAF to raise UAV squadron”.

Sept 27/06: UK. The US DSCA announce’s Britain’s formal export request for 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B) surveillance & targeting turrets, 2 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (airborne), 1 Ground Control Station, 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, Ku-Band Communications spares, Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar Spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, and other forms of support and assistance.

The principal contractors will be General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA; General Atomics Lynx Systems in San Diego, California; and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B).

Implementation of this proposed sale won’t require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the United Kingdom.
RAF 39 Squadron began operating out of Creech AFB near Vegas in January 2007, alongside the American Reaper force. Sources: DSCA.

nsteadJune 6/08: A British MoD article external link states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

Of course, to cross that line, the RAF has to own them. Looks like there was a contract. RAF 39 Squadron was reformed in January 2008, and operates from Creech AFB, NV alongside its USAF counterparts.

Hunter-Killers

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly external link reported that this request for Reaper UAVs has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no contract. As subsequent reports show, there was a contract.

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces external link [PDF] the United Kingdom’s official request for up to 10 MQ-9s, at a cost of up to $1.017 billion:
June 6/08: A British MoD article external link states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

Of course, to cross that line, the RAF has to own them. Looks like there was a contract. RAF 39 Squadron was reformed in January 2008, and operates from Creech AFB, NV alongside its USAF counterparts.

Hunter-Killers

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly external link reported that this request for Reaper UAVs has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no contract. As subsequent reports show, there was a contract.

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces external link [PDF] the United Kingdom’s official request for up to 10 MQ-9s, at a cost of up to $1.017 billion:
The MQ-9s are currently the British military’s only significant GA-ASI products. The release says that this arrangement “will develop support solutions that could be used by the UK MoD to offer increased flexibility and sovereignty over existing arrangements.” Immediate dividends will be small, but if competitors fail to match these kinds of arrangements, it could give General Atomics an important advantage as it seeks to sell more MQ-9s to Britain and offer other products like the derivative Mariner maritime UAV or other members of its signature Predator family. GA-ASI release external link | Cobham release external link [PDF].

July 14/08: Mantis vs. Reaper? The UK Ministry of Defence has also entered into a jointly funded 1st phase of the Mantis UAS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program with BAE Systems.

The mockup unveiled at the Farnborough 2008 air show shows a UAV that’s clearly in the MQ-9 Reaper’s class, with up to 6 weapons pylons for Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. The design looks less like a high-altitude strike UAV, however, and more like the offspring of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog” battlefield support plane and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara external link counter-insurgency aircraft.

BAE will work with the MoD and key UK industrial parties including Rolls-Royce (RB 250 turboprops for now), QinetiQ, GE Aviation, SELEX Galileo and Meggitt, and the design and manufacture of the twin-engine Mantis and associated ground control infrastructure are already underway. Assembly, vehicle ground testing and infrastructure integration testing will take place later in 2008, with first flight currently scheduled for early 2009. BAE release external link | Flight International external link | Defense Update | Defense News external link | Aviation Week external link | domain-B external link | WIRED Danger Room external link.
Nov 2/10: Britain & France. The “UK-France Summit 2010 Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation external link” includes a proviso regarding MALE UAVs:

“16. Unmanned Air Systems have become essential to our armed forces. We have agreed to work together on the next generation of Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Air Surveillance Systems. Co-operation will enable the potential sharing of development, support and training costs, and ensure that our forces can work together. We will launch a jointly funded, competitive assessment phase in 2011, with a view to new equipment delivery between 2015 and 2020.”

As far as existing contenders go, this may weaken EADS’ Talarion external link even further, and probably gives BAE’s Mantis platform a boost, as BAE is reportedly in talks with Dassault external link.

Sept 10/10: Deployment. Britain has sent an extra MQ-9 Reaper UAV to Afghanistan external link:

“This latest addition to the Royal Air Force’s Reaper fleet will allow 39 Squadron to fly multiple Reaper aircraft at any one time over Afghanistan. A total of 36 hours of video surveillance can now be delivered in support of troops on the ground every day of the year, which marks an 80 per cent increase over the past 12 months. Reaper has been supporting ground forces in Afghanistan since October 2007 and has now flown over 13,000 hours in direct support of operations.”

May 19/10: Status. The UK MoD announces that The RAF’s MQ-9 Reaper program has now exceeded 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.