Protestors have staged a demonstration outside RAF Waddington, angry at the use of remotely piloted aircraft – but why?

Christopher Cole, from the Drone Campaign Network, said the use of these aircraft “made war too easy”, and lowered the threshold for the use of force overseas.

“The idea they are precise and don’t create civilian casualties is nonsense,” he said.

The UK’s primary Remotely Piloted Aircraft is the Reaper. Reaper is operated by crews of professional pilots, sensor operators and Mission Intelligence Co-ordinators from Ground Control Stations. They cannot engage targets without human interaction.

RAF personnel have flown more than 44,000 hours providing essential support to NATO ground forces in Afghanistan.

According to the Royal Air Force:

“The Rules Of Engagement (ROE) used for Reaper weapon release are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft; the weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, this may include deciding not to release a weapon. UK Reaper is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to employ weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew.

The majority of the weapons employed from Reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage. Regardless of the type of weapon system employed, a full collateral damage assessment is conducted before any weapon release; this is irrespective of whether that weapon is released by a manned or remotely piloted aircraft.

On current operations, many UK Reaper weapons engagements have been authorised by a Forward Air Controller (FAC) or Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who will be observing the target on the ground or from Land Forces HQs.”

The Campaigners claim the systems put civilians at risk where as the MoD said it does everything possible to minimise the risk to human life from strikes.

With remotely piloted aircraft, the pilot can watch the target around the clock. You might miss something but you’re far more likely to make that mistake in a conventional airstrike or a ground assault.

According to a piece in ‘The Atlantic’ titled ‘Drones: Actually the Most Humane Form of Warfare Ever’:”Like any other weapons system, drones have caused civilian casualties. But they also have the potential to dramatically reduce civilian casualties in armed conflicts, and particularly in counterinsurgencies. Their ability to follow targets for days or weeks accomplishes two things that contribute to saving the lives of innocents: First, it confirms that the target is engaged in the behavior that put them on the target list, reducing the likelihood of striking someone based on faulty intelligence. Second, by establishing a “pattern of life” for the intended target, it allows operators to predict when the target will be sufficiently isolated to allow a strike that is unlikely to harm civilians. 

Another, less obvious, feature that reduces civilian casualties is that drones are controlled remotely, so the decision to employ a weapon can be reviewed in real time by lawyers, intelligence analysts, and senior commanders without any concern (in most cases) that a hesitation to act may cost lives. Even more importantly, the operators themselves are not concerned for their own safety, eliminating the possibility that the combination of tension, an unexpected occurrence, and a concern for personal safety leads to weapons being fired when they shouldn’t be.”

The MoD said:

“Given the ruthless and inhuman behaviour of our adversary, including the deliberate use of human shields, we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present.

While we’ve not seen any evidence that we have caused civilian casualties, that isn’t the same as saying we have not or will not do so, especially in close urban fighting against a ruthless terrorist enemy that uses civilians as human shields.”

Unmanned vehicles in warfare aren’t going to go away. This is especially the case when they’re often as precise, if not more so, than their manned counterparts. The fact is, these aircraft are often less dangerous to civilians than their manned counterparts.

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Daniele Mandelli

Lefties who have no idea what they are on about.
If it is not UAV’s they will be complaining about something else.

Evan P

Hello, I am left wing, and would like to inform you that I think that what the campaigner said is utter gobshite. Hope that helps.

Mike Saul

Do you think Corbyn is a gobshite as well?

Daniele Mandelli

Good to hear! Nice that there exceptions then.

Richard Cooper

Would the protestors be happier if we used manned aircraft? At least they would have the pleasure of watching a downed RAF pilot locked into a cage and burnt alive.
Their real objection is that drones are very effective against their revolutionary allies.



Just like their protest fronts “Stop the West” and “CND”.
They attack their home fronts and not remain mute about the antics of their former owners


They would only be satisfied if the terrorists were given a clear shot at whatever they wanted. I take it these are the same pests who got the UK to ban useful tools like land mines and even more effective ones like cluster munitions. In a happier and better time not even a hundred years past they would have been hanged as enemy collaborators. Civilian casualties? They ceased being civilian when they let their homes, hospitals, and schools be used as arms depots, hideouts, and firing positions. Allow me to hazard a guess no serviceman in that protest or in… Read more »

Old Geezer

If the lefties want them banned, they must be effective.

Mike Saul

This is what Jeremy Corbyn said about drones in 2010.

“We’re here today to say that we don’t agree with these drones. We don’t agree with this obscenity that’s going on before our very eyes here,’

‘That’s why just as much as we want to get rid of landmines, small arms, nuclear weapons, we want to get rid of drones as well.’

So Jeremy doesn’t seem to be a fan of drones, along with nuclear weapons, landmines and even small arms.

Vote Labour for a weapon free UK.

Joe Bloggs

Well they are quite happy with the Venezuelan and Russian governments having weapons. And don’t forget about Hamas and Hezbollah…

Kenny Mac

Never heard about war being easy before. I’m assuming old king Cole has experience of leading from the front.

Evan P

War is “too easy” with them? What, so it’s better to give terrorists a better chance to kill the people who risk their lives to protect our country and our allies? Wow.


Clueless protests from people who live in a lovey dovey fantasy world shielded from the horrors of war by the things they protest against .
Freedom to protest comes at a price.

Rob Collinson

I give it to about half the shelf-life of the F35 and we will be gutting spending on piloted aircraft. Why risk a life when you can have that life sitting in a shipping container 3000 miles away?

Cheaper too!

Simple economics!


They are manned.
The ‘man’ is just operating remotely.

Rob Collinson



Wasn’t even replying to you bobby….. so, cool your jets.

Rob Collinson


Enfant teribl

There is a good article on this in NATO’s Air Power journal. See P. 83

Edd Beadling

“The idea they are precise and don’t create civilian casualties is nonsense,”

So that’s your best argument against drones just calling the RAF’s claims nonsense
Oh well must be true drone are terrible ?


A lot of dead terrorists. Wars to keep barbarism at the periphery and not in the living room will always be there. Someone who doesn’t acknowledge this is ignorant of all history. So answer fight in the Korengal Valley or fight in places like Wessex and south London? There isn’t a, “I would like to sit this out option.” The Islamists bomb their own countries for not being Islamic enough to their view.