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Unmanned drone squadron ‘stood up’ at RAF Waddington

The new 13 Reaper Squadron has been officially ‘stood up’ on Friday at RAF Waddington.

The squadron will fly unmanned drone missions over Afghanistan, doubling the UK Reaper intelligence and surveillance capability to 10 aircraft.

The 39 Squadron flies five UK Reapers remotely from the U.S. Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Reapers are the only armed remotely piloted aircraft. They carry 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles for strikes on insurgents.

The new drones should start flying before the end of 2012 with three control terminals at RAF Waddington.

A pilot from 39 Squadron remotely controls a Reaper during a training sortie over the west coast of America from Creech Air Force Base.

There will be around 100 personnel in the squadron, including pilots, mission commanders, engineers, systems operators, and admin and logistics staff.

Most of the squadron will be based at RAF Waddington, but it will also have staff on the ground in Afghanistan to control the take-off and landing of the drones.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has long-term plans for the 39 Squadron to relocate to Lincolnshire as well.

The Reaper drones are used primarily for intelligence gathering. MoD figures show that since 2006 they have provided over 100,000 hours of persistent intelligence, but also fired around 300 missiles and bombs.

The MoD said the same strict rules on the use of weapons on manned aircraft are followed for unmanned drones.

Since the announcement that unmanned drones will be controlled from RAF Waddington, two peaceful protests have been staged outside the base this year.

The use of armed unmanned drones is debated by campaigners due to fears that civilians can be killed or injured when they fire missiles.

Photos: MoD Crown Copyright