The British government has confirmed it intends to deploy a number of its General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones to support air strikes against Islamic State.
The Royal Air Force currently operate Tornado strike aircraft, a Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft and a Voyager inflight refuelling aircraft over Iraq.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon announced:
“We are redeploying Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft from Afghanistan to be based in the Middle East for use against Islamic State. This deployment will complement our existing capabilities, which provide highly valued surveillance support and situational awareness to the Iraqi authorities and our coalition partners.
The surveillance capability of Reaper will see it provide vital situational awareness, making it an invaluable asset to the Iraqi Government and the coalition allies in helping counter the threat from ISIL and supporting our vital interests in the area.”
The British government voted in support of joining the air strikes in Iraq on the 26th of September, and began operations with Tornado GR4 aircraft equipped with the Israeli Rafael Litening targeting pods and armed with Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bombs and MBDA Brimstone missiles. It had previously used the Tornado jets over Iraq only in a surveillance role.
British participation only allows for operations over Iraq, however, the United States and other coalition members are also carrying out strikes over Syria. Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said:
“It is true that in military terms this is a single theatre of operations. If we see that there is a military case for the UK to take part in air strikes in Syria we will bring a debate to the house.There is more than enough air power in Syria.”
It is expected that further Reapers will join this initial deployment once UK forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The MoD has refused to disclose where the drones will be based, except to indicate they will not be based in Iraq.