The UK is to arm additional airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms under a programme known as the 'Venom kinetic strike capability', the Secretary of State for Defence said on 11 February.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, Gavin Williamson said that the Royal Air Force (RAF) will double its armed ISR capability under the initiative, although he provided no further details.
"The RAF will double [its] armed ISR capability so we can identify and neutralise targets far faster. The Venom kinetic strike capability will mean those who wish to do us harm have more to fear," Williamson said.
In response to a request for comment, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson told Jane's , "Venom kinetic strike capability is [a] programme under development to increase the lethality of ISR platforms. The name Venom used is aligned to a programme and not necessarily a weapon." The spokesperson added that the MoD is unlikely to release any additional information related to the programme, which is largely classified.
The RAF's airborne ISR fleet currently comprises six Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1 Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft; four Raytheon Sentinel R1s; five Raytheon Shadow R1s; three L-3 RC-135W Airseekers; and 10 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Of these, only the Reapers are armed.
While media reports have cited official sources as saying that both the Shadow and Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules (which is not acknowledged to be an ISR platform in UK service) will be armed under the project, the MoD told Jane's that reference to any specific platforms with relation to Venom kinetic strike capability at this stage is "speculation". However, both the C-130J and Shadow are used as special forces platforms, which would explain the MoD's reluctance to comment publicly on them being armed if that is indeed the case.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options at ihsmarkit.com/janes