Inside drone control at RAF Waddington

The MoD has for the first time opened the doors to its drone control centre for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) based at RAF Waddington near Lincoln.

Pictures released on Wednesday show the hi-tech operations room in Lincolnshire, where members of 13 Squadron remotely operate the RAF’s Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan.

Reaper is just one of a range of so-called drones, including remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

During a visit to RAF Waddington, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond viewed the full range of current and future equipment including Hermes 450, Black Hornet Nano, Tarantula Hawk, Watchkeeper and Scan Eagle.

The Defence Secretary also spoke to infantry soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan who mentioned the benefits the ‘eyes in the sky’ can provide troops on the ground.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Vital to our efforts to protect our forces and the people of Afghanistan, this battle-winning technology allows us to understand the situation on the ground more clearly, develop better intelligence, and precisely strike, within our rules of engagement, those who threaten or hurt the people we are protecting.

“Much of the criticism of Unmanned Aerial Systems is based on misunderstanding. This event provides a great opportunity to better inform people about these life-saving assets and their variety of purpose.”

Air Vice-Marshal Philip Osborn, Joint Force Command Capability Director, said: “The UK’s unmanned aircraft systems – or as they are increasingly called ‘remotely piloted air systems’ – provide UK and Coalition Forces with vital intelligence derived from the aircraft’s unique ability to loiter over the enemy for hours, and provide persistent surveillance of enemy positions without putting our Servicemen and women at unnecessary risk.

“In today’s operational environment, unmanned and remotely piloted air systems are increasingly vital to keep one step ahead of the enemy, and to save military and civilian lives.

“Highly trained and experienced personnel are at the heart of the capability, and human oversight and control is always paramount. This is a capability just like every other across Defence – it has skilled and motivated people at its core, people who are in charge of technology and use it in strict accordance with the law.”

Viewing the inside of a Reaper control cabin, the Defence Secretary was able to see how it is guided and controlled at all times by a team of highly trained and skilled people.

Pilots, sensor operators and analysts all make decisions in real-time, exactly like the crew of a traditional aircraft.

In over 54,000 hours of operations, the UK’s Reaper, the only armed system used by British Armed Forces, has fired 459 precision weapons.

MoD said that when a precision strike capability is required from RAF Reaper aircraft by ground commanders, this is always in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict, and is governed by strict rules of engagement – exactly the same as manned aircraft.

Several anti-drone protesters trespassed at RAF Waddington this summer for their campaign, for which they were arrested and fined in court.

Also, in April, four anti-war organisations marched from Lincoln to RAF Waddington in an organised peaceful protest against the use of drones.