The UK has reduced its number of operational General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with one of the 10 aircraft currently in the US for decommissioning.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) made the disclosure in a freedom of information (FOI) request that was submitted by Drone Wars UK, and which was supplied to Jane's on 15 February.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) operates the Reaper out of Waddington in Lincolnshire, with the vehicles themselves currently based in the Middle East (understood, but not confirmed, to be Kuwait) for operations over Syria. With the MoD reluctant to discuss Reaper operations, it had been assumed that all 10 UAVs were engaged in ongoing operations against the Islamic State.
Drone Wars UK is a London-based non-governmental organisation that describes itself as having "a long-term goal of an international ban on the use of armed drones". Its director, Chris Cole, told Jane's , "This surreptitious removal of a Reaper from service typifies the lack of transparency around its deployment. In contrast to the detail given about other British aircraft undertaking strikes, we have had no official statements about how many of the UK's Reaper drones are actually deployed, nor where they are. Given the controversy surrounding the use of these systems, secrecy can only lead to greater suspicion and we would urge the MoD to be more transparent about the deployment of Reaper."
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