Protestors recently 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 they say.
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.