RAF Reaper may be armed 'within weeks'
By Robert Hewson
Armed combat operations by the UK Royal Air Force's newly acquired General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are imminent, Jane's has learned.
Jonathan Barratt, team leader for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) strategic unmanned air vehicles experiment integrated project team, told Jane's: "The aircraft will be armed within a matter of weeks, with AGM-114P Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 Paveway bombs that we have acquired under a separate United States Foreign Military Sales [FMS] contract."
Barratt was a speaker at a briefing on the wider UK Reaper procurement and operations programme hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London on 9 April.
In response to Jane's queries the MoD later stated: "Subject to ongoing negotiations, UK Reaper will be equipped in the near future to carry 500 lb laser-guided bombs and Hellfire P laser-guided missiles... standard US weapons already being employed in theatre.
"These weapons will provide commanders [with] a proven and well-understood capability, which is similar to that provided by UK weapons already in service," the MoD said.
Barratt noted that there "has been an 'ethical' issue over the employment of US weapons on a UK platform that is active in a foreign theatre but flown by UK crews from the US.
"The US authorities wanted to make sure there were no legal obstacles to doing any of this, and there are not," he said.
"We already included weapons provision in our original release to service [RtS] request and safety case. Now we will be ready in a few weeks."
The AGM-114P is a version of the Lockheed Martin Hellfire specially developed for UAV operations. It is not in the UK's existing Hellfire inventory. Neither is the Raytheon GBU-12 - which would be a wholly new weapon type for UK service. There has never been a published FMS contract award that explicitly included either new Hellfires or Paveway IIs for the UK. Neither has a formal UK request for such weapons, which must be lodged with and published by the US Defence Security Co-operation Agency, ever appeared. The acquisition of weapons from existing US stocks under an urgent operational requirement (UOR) might allow these public processes to be avoided. 367 of 692 words
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