Air strikes to now focus on hitting command centres and supply lines while continuing to avoid civilian casualties.
RAF combat aircraft have already stepped up strikes in recent weeks. Ministry of Defence figures show that UK air strikes have risen from a monthly average of 29 between May and October last year to more than 80 in December. In the first week of January the RAF conducted 31 strikes.
Last week witnessed the passing of a milestone for the RAF Reaper fleet with the type flying its the 1,000th since they were committed to operations against Islamic State.
Mr Fallon is expected to say:
“We have made strong progress in recent weeks. Now the campaign is moving into a new phase where we aim to systematically dismantle Daesh’s structure and capabilities.
That means striking harder at the head of the snake, with an increased focus on infrastructure, lines of communication and supply routes.”
British combat aircraft have killed large numbers of Islamic State fighters in Iraq over the past year without harming any civilians, the Ministry of Defence have revealed in a response to Freedom of Information requests.
The MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by General Atomics. The MQ-9 is referred to by the RAF as a Remotely Piloted Air System to indicate their human ground controllers. It is armed with Hellfire missiles.
According to Justin Bronk, as quoted by the FT:
“Reaper offers much greater persistence over potential targets than fast jets like Tornado. They are better suited to maintaining observation over known combat zones where no pre-identified fixed targets exist and they offer more time over target to ensure targets are correctly identified. Pilots can talk about the picture in front of them with intelligence and even legal personnel face to face before striking, which is impossible in a fast jet.”
The deployment of Reapers against targets in Iraq and Syria marks the first occasion the UK has used its Reapers outside of Afghanistan. Their primary purpose is to provide surveillance support and situational awareness to coalition forces in addition to their combat capabilities.
The UK Reaper’s were at first flown from Creech in Nevada, but since 2013 they have been flown from RAF Waddington by 13 and 39 Squadrons. Reaper will be replaced by Protector.
The Protector programme will see the UK acquire at least 20 Remotely Piloted Air Systems to replace Reaper and has taken the place of the RAF’s Scavenger programme. Scavenger sought to supply a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft.