The Royal Air Force's 10 MQ-9 Reapers will be incorporated into the core equipment program after combat operations end in Afghanistan. (Sergeant Corrine Buxton/RAF)
LONDON — The British Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is to take the Royal Air Force’s fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers into its core equipment program following the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
“The Defence Board recently gave approval for funding to allow the Reaper capability to be maintained until the Scavenger [program] enters service towards the end of the decade; plans for this bridging capability are currently under development,” the government announced July 29 in response to an earlier parliamentary defense committee report on remotely piloted air vehicles.
The government also said in its response to the committee that a national program being undertaken to look at the mix of future combat air requirements from 2030 could include a “new-build manned aircraft.”
The RAF has a fleet of 10 of the General Atomics built Reapers. The first of the machines was delivered to the British in 2007, purchased to meet an urgent operational requirement for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities to support military activities in Afghanistan.
The remotely piloted air systems were purchased from a special Treasury reserve and not the MoD’s own budget. The decision to make the equipment a permanent part of RAF’s core equipment program required, amongst other things, changes to funding responsibilities.
The Scavenger program is in the assessment phase. The system is aimed at delivering a sovereign armed remotely piloted air system capability for the UK toward the end of the decade, said the government in its response to the defense committee.
A decision on the way forward will likely be taken in the next strategic defense and security review (SDSR) set to take place after the next election in May 2015.
In addition to the Reaper becoming part of the permanent order of battle, the government also laid out its plans for bringing other unmanned air systems into the core program.
“Of the existing UAS currently used on operations in Afghanistan by the Army [Hermes 450, Desert Hawk 3, T-Hawk and Black Hornet] it is our intention that the Desert Hawk 3 and Black Hornet are retained,” said the government.
A final decision on bringing the systems into the core is expected to be taken by the British Army Investment Board this summer, said the government.
The response from the government also raised the possibility of a new manned aircraft joining the RAF fleet post 2030.
“A two-year national future combat air system (FCAS) program has been launched which aims to inform the forthcoming SDSR on the most appropriate force mix of platforms and systems in order to meet the future combat air requirement from 2030. A unmanned air combat vehicle along the lines of Taranis is one potential element of this force mix, along with an additional buy of Lightning II (F-35), a Typhoon life extension or an alternative new build manned aircraft,” said the government.
The work will allow a decision to be made at the next SDSR about whether to commit to an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) development program.
Taranis is a UCAV demonstrator vehicle developed by the British government and an industry team led by BAE Systems.
Britain and France signed a FCAS cooperation pact at the Farnborough International Airshow earlier this month to look at a possible joint development of a UCAV. ■