01 December 2011 - by Beth Stevenson – Shepard Group
A senior UK military official has quashed rumours concerning the performance of RAF MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in Afghanistan.
According to WG CDR Andrew Jeffrey, SO1 Air and Joint Effects, MoD, accusations that the aircraft lacked airworthiness were ‘absolute nonsense’.
‘Everybody assumed that the lack of airworthiness [of the Predator A] transferred to the Predator B,’ Jeffrey told the Air Power in Irregular conference at Farnborough on 30 November.
‘My argument is that the technology is there,’ Jeffrey said, describing how he was confident in the current standards of the platform. He added that criticism of the aircraft had been generated by ‘urban myths’.
Controlled by 39 Squadron from AFB Creech, Nevada, US, the operation came under scrutiny for lacking situational awareness, Jeffrey said. It is understood that there is a multiple second delay between Creech and Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, sources suggested.
Jeffrey also denied the existence of 'rogue' UAS or ‘killer drones’ in Afghanistan, describing how systems with lost downlinks were grounded as quickly as possible. In addition, he said he was confident that the Reaper is ‘very much part of the fight’.
‘Each of these sensors can and is exploited in different places globally,’ Jeffrey confirmed.
However, he admitted: ‘I don’t think that we’re very good at tasking multi-sensor platforms.'
The RAF Reaper fleet active in Afghanistan was provided through a UOR, so there is the possibility that by 2015 it could be scrapped if the system is not selected for the UK’s Scavenger programme.
However Jeffrey confirmed that the future will see two Reaper squadrons established, being 39 and 13, with one being based at AFB Creech, and one at RAF Waddington, the UK’s ISTAR headquarters.
Meanwhile, 5 Squadron Leader for the RAF, Chris Melville, who is in charge of the UK’s Sentinel ISR aircraft operations, also based at Waddington, was confident that there is a future for this platform, despite rumours that it could be scrapped in future years.
‘At the moment, it is just not possible to put every sensor on every platform,’ Melville explained.
‘There are situations where a UAV is the right platform; [however] a manned asset is a much more flexible option. We are available for re-tasking.’
Melville explained how the SAR and GMTI capability of the Sentinel is not matched by anything else in service, as it provides ‘true wide area search ISR for the MoD’.
He was confident that the Sentinel has a place outside existing current theatres, stating that ‘not every fight is Afghanistan’, where close observation is key, and a ‘high level stand-off platform’ such as this one has ‘growth potential’ in future conflicts.