A pilot from 13 Squadron remotely controls a Reaper aircraft from RAF Waddington [Credit: Crown copyright]

Drone pilots not 'video gaming warrior geeks' say MPs

British military drone pilots are not “video gaming warrior geeks” and fully understand the life and death decision they make.

A report from the Defence Select Committee published today found that remotely piloted aircraft are a key military capability for the future and the rapid development of the technology by the UK Armed Forces over the past decade has contributed greatly to the effectiveness of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The debate surrounding the development and use of military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has mainly been due to a lack of information or misunderstanding about their operation, function and potential uses, according to the committee, which said the provision of enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance has undoubtedly saved lives and prevented casualties.

Chairman of the committee, James Arbuthnot, said: "It is very clear that UK aircrews are experienced professional personnel with a clear purpose and keen understanding of the rules of engagement which govern their operations.

“These are no video gaming ‘warrior geeks’ as some would portray them. Despite being remote from the battle space they exhibit a strong sense of connection to the life and death decisions they are sometimes required to take."

In compiling the report the Committee visited XIII Squadron, RAF Waddington, responsible for operating the RAF’s hunter-killer Reaper UAVs, where they said personnel were keen for the public to understand better what it is they do and to dispel myths that have grown up about Reaper operations in particular.

The committee said it was satisfied that a robust system is in place to review every remotely piloted aircraft weapons discharge by a UK aircraft, though it did recognise the desire for a greater degree of disclosure from the MoD.

While satisfied the UK’s operations comply fully with international law, the report urges the Ministry of Defence (MoD), to publish details about any incident involving civilian casualties and any lessons learned from review processes wherever it is operationally secure to do so.

“With so much argument surrounding the UK’s use of remotely piloted air systems, it is very welcome to see the independent Commons Defence Committee recognise publicly their value and effectiveness, and that operations comply fully with international law,” said Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois.

“I hope this very positive report helps to dispel some of the frustrating myths often propagated, and reassure people that remotely piloted air systems bring life-saving benefit to our armed forces, and to those we are working to protect, every day.

Until now, all UK unmanned air systems have been funded as urgent operational requirements, rather than being budgeted for in the long-term, and the committee called on the MoD to clarify its intentions and strategic vision for the future of the program before the next Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015.

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