Weapon of choice: the RAF reapers
For 10 years they have rained down death from the skies. But as the debate rages over unmanned aerial vehicles, Britain shows no signs of slowing its own drone ambitions.
The Ministry of Defence is spending £135m to increase its current fleet of six Reaper MQ-9 drones to 10, in what military chiefs hope will allow Britain to field at least three machines flying simultaneously at any one time.
As early as next summer we will have a capacity to fly drone missions over Afghanistan from British soil for the first time. Our current fleet of hunter drones are still flown from Creech, a US Air Force base in Nevada, by 39 Squadron. But a tender process is underway to build a new headquarters at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
Former Tornado pilots from 13 Squadron are now retraining to fly what is fast becoming a staple of Britain's air arsenal. Britain's Reaper drones first began flying combat missions in October 2007. Unlike the US, which has rapidly expanded its clandestine drone programme to strike at violent Islamists around the world, Britain has only used drones in Afghanistan.
In September it was quietly announced that British Reapers had discharged their weapons for the 200th time – an indication of how often they are called upon to attack Taliban positions or come to the defence of forces under fire.