RAF Reaper UAV - Photo: Corporal Steve Follows RAF UK MoD
Royal Air Force Reaper UAV weapons launches over Afghanistan have increased sevenfold since 2008, according to newly-published data
Published in early September 2013, the data confirms that, last year, the RAF's Reaper fleet was involved in 892 flights over Afghanistan. During 92 of these sorties, missiles were fired, meaning such events occurred during over 10 per cent of the flights total.
In contrast, a total of 296 RAF Reaper MALE (medium altitude long endurance) UAV missions were staged during 2008, of which circa five per cent involved weapons being fired.
Deployed against suspected militant forces located in Afghanistan, the RAF's Reapers can be equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles: a capability first revealed in June 2008. Under the United States' control, UAVs operating in Afghan skies have proved highly controversial. While having successfully engaged with intended targets, the same unmanned platforms have reportedly also killed dozens of innocent civilians.
RAF Reaper Weapons Launches
According to officials, five different UK Armed Forces UAVs are presently deployed in Afghanistan. Of these, the RAF's Reapers are the only UAVs able to carry and launch weapons.
The type, said one RAF representative, has: "played a vital role supporting military operations [and]...saved countless UK and allied forces lives by providing essential intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and precision weapons in support of coalition forces on group operations."
Previously known as the Predator B, the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper made its first flight in February 2001 and entered service on 1 May 2007. To date, 57 examples have been produced, each one costing in the region of $16.9 million.
RAF Reaper UAVs
Reaper MALE UAVs currently equip three nations - Italy, the US and the UK. The Royal Air Force's Reapers UAVs serve two squadrons: No. 39 Squadron and No. 13 Squadron.
Powered by a single Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine generating 900 horsepower, the Reaper has a top speed of 300 miles per hour, a range of 1,150 miles and an endurance of 14 hours in its heaviest configuration. Reapers can fly at up to 50,000 feet but typically operate at around 25,000 feet and, equipped with seven weapons hardpoints, they can carry up to AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.