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UK surveillance aircraft searching Gaza for hostages

A file photo of the Shadow ISTAR aircraft taken at its home base in the UK. The UK Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the Shadow ISTAR aircraft is flying in the Gaza region in support of efforts to locate hostages taken by Hamas. (Crown Copyright)

The United Kingdom has deployed surveillance aircraft to the Gaza region to help in the search for British nationals taken hostage by Hamas, the UK defence minister announced on 3 December.

Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps said, “Unarmed UK aircraft will begin carrying out surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate hostages.”

The secretary's comments were added to by a fellow government minister who told national TV, “The Ministry of Defence [MoD] has announced that it has sent some unmanned, and importantly, unarmed surveillance drones into the region to help look for hostages.”

However, the MoD confirmed to Janes that this is not the case, and that the assets in question are the manned (but still unarmed) RTX (formerly Raytheon) Shadow R1/2 intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft. Based on the Beechcraft King Air 350 twin turboprop, the Shadow has been identified by online flight tracking sites as operating out of Royal Air Force (RAF) Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Having entered service in 2007, the Shadow is usually based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, and flown by 14 Squadron. The Shadow was originally procured as an urgent operational requirement (UOR) to take on the ISTAR role in Afghanistan and beyond. The secretive nature of its mission has meant that, while its existence has been acknowledged, neither the MoD nor RTX has divulged any details as to the specific nature of its role or the means by which it performs it.

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