Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use

Taranis taxiing at Warton, Lancashire unmanned

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee have recently published a report on the use use of unmanned systems, specifically air systems, or remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) as the submission from the MoD stresses.

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I don’t think there is all that much that hasn’t been reported but elsewhere but it is a good summary and an interesting read. The evidence sessions and written evidence have some good information as well although be warned, there is a submission from Public Interest Lawyers! so you might need a stiff drink before tackling that one.


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34 Responses

  1. There was a good article on defense news yesterday about this and the reaper joining the core equipment plan while we wait for Scavenger

    The article also says that the current joint Anglo _ French study will examine a new build manned replacement aircraft to replace Typhoon which is the first time I have seen anything suggesting a future of anything but F35/UCAV force for the RAF.

  2. Don’t get too excited about Scavenger, one of the earlier evidence sessions associated with this latest release hinted very strongly that Reaper would become Scavenger (with some mods) and then hang around until 2030 (conveniently falling into a similar time-frame to FCAS). The thing to watch is the ISTAR optimisation study, some sort of workon the ISTAR fleet has to be an SDSR output, the UK currently has an excellent set of aircraft perfect for non-contested airspace ground surveillance but not much else, at the same time RAPTOR will soon be platformless and there is a desperate need for an MPA capability. Raytheon is looking at some interesting potential mods for Sentinel, GA is testing a whole host of interesting changes for the Predator family so there are options for development of in-service platforms.

  3. Reaper as Scavenger wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    General Atomics have offered the MOD a “Design Authority” role. They’d supply MQ-9 airframes with a plug and play architecture. The MOD then drops whatever payloads they see fit onto it. Brimstone, SeaSpray radar, RAPTOR pod.

    GA need to add all-weather airframe features for the UK (lightning protection, anti/de-icing systems). Operation in non-segregated airspace certification. mention of working with Cobham to discuss.

    The same Ground Control Stations can also be used to operate the Predator Avenger, though I’d rather see us pour funds into an ASTRAEA enabled Son of Taranis program, unless the cost of adding Avenger as a potential HALE that happens to be able to carry precision weapons rather than as a Strike RPAS.

  4. TOC,

    Agreed, in fact I actually think Reaper is the best solution for Scavenger, its here, its cheap and its got an upgrade path.

  5. I agree Reaper is fine for scavenger. Stick Brimestone 2 on it and job done.

    Buy 10 more of the new extended range versions and put seaspray on them and use them to supplement a small fleet of P8’s and we have our MPA capability for a very reasonable price.


  6. Worth noting the extended range versions are available as field-modifications. Wing, fin, undercarriage, external fuel tanks and a software update. We could upgrade our existing aircraft.

  7. TOC,

    Exactly. First priority, obviously, should be ironing out all the creases that come with a new capability that are largely invisible to outsiders. Making it more deployable, ensuring it links into the wider ISTAR network, clearing for flight in civilian airspace, etc. Then any money left over can be ploughed into endurance enhancements and new sensor types.

  8. @ The Other Chris

    agreed but I still think we need them in greater numbers than 10 if they are to supplement MPA. Getting European air certification should be a priority but I think General Atomics are offering to do the work at their own expense to promote sales in Europe.

  9. It would have been good if the UK and Europe recognised the value of MALE unmanned systems and developed a competitor to Predator and the bigger Elbit systems but they didn’t. Instead of bleating about it and looking for handouts to follow in the wake of GA they should concentrate in extending the value of Predators, getting into support, development payloads that use our sensors and comms, integrating the ground stations and comms infrastructures and making the basic vehicle cheaper and easier to deploy

  10. TD,

    Maybe, maybe not. We are probably quite close to peak MALE/HALE anyway and Europeans have purchased paltry numbers. Best to focus on UCAV technology if Europe wants something to offer.

  11. I think the current market for MALE UAV’s is so small that there is only space for a couple of competitors. No point in Europe trying to peruse a project when GA does it pretty well and for cheap.

    The offering of GA to the UK seems to solve a lot of problems with a existing and cost effective platform.

    avenger could be a very interesting capability to have particularly in use in SEAD operations.

    I wonder how much altitude reaper loses when fitted with the sea spray radar pod. It does not look to aerodynamic and obviously the more height it looses the smaller the sensor coverage.

    Using a cheaper platform like reaper to supplement MPA could make it possible for us to deploy it to places like the Falklands.

  12. TD, agreed. There is far too much speculation about what exciting things could be invented, when we should be focussing on getting something into service now and then developing, modifying and enhancing it over time. An 80% solution today is always going to be better than a 100% solution that might or might not appear in ten years time.

  13. @ TAS

    Protection of future oil infrastructure, fishing rights etc etc. Agreed Argentina is a joke but it won’t stop them being a thorn in our sides. A400M will be a hideously expensive way to provide MPA once C130 leaves service.

  14. But what need is there to do this? The Falklands have their own maritime surveillance aircraft and patrol ship which service their fishery protection needs perfectly well. There is no oil infrastructure and won’t be for years yet. There is no need for a UK military maritime patrol capability to be based out of the Falklands. The C130 just flies about because it’s based down there and it gives them something to do. We never based Nimrod down there on a permanent basis, so why should that change now?

    If you think Argentina is going to waltz over and help themselves to the Falklands again, then you have no understanding of the real situation.

  15. Maybe the entries that followed already redirected the discussion; I am. Ot sure as they were so short.

    So: wasn’t scavenger meant to take the unmanned towrds a penetrating strike/ bomber type of role?
    Is it realistic that the upgrade path will do this, RE
    “Hohum July 31, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Agreed, in fact I actually think Reaper is the best solution for Scavenger, its here, its cheap and its got an upgrade path.

    Martin July 31, 2014 at 10:16 am
    I agree Reaper is fine for scavenger. Stick Brimestone 2 on it and job done”

    If the answer is”yes” and that will happen on land, what will happen on the_carriers? Plural there, if itis just one of them, job done with the “B” – what else could it be used for?

  16. Now’s the time especially to stay on our toes with regards to Argentina.

    Two quotes leap to mind:

    President Galtieri, as head of the military government, aimed to counter public concern over economic and human rights issues by means of a speedy victory over the Falklands which would appeal to popular nationalistic sentiment.


    History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

  17. I’m not suggesting Argentina will invade the Falkland Islands again.

    What I am saying is that they are being backed up against a wall. The population are about to get squeezed and that could spark other problems.

    Falklands may need additional civil protection from “Guardia Civil” style encounters.

    Alternatively they might even need borders assistance from a migration of Argentinian’s looking for legitimate work in the Oil Fields. We’d want to ensure proper naturalisation and integration of immigrants to avoid a sovereignty referendum in a generation’s time.

    British Antarctic Territory is another potential flash point.

    Chile may also ask for assistance if Argentina looks West for a scapegoat to its own problems.

  18. @The Other Chris: all correct re AR’s propensity to fight wars when running out of money. With the winding down of North Sea ops, you would hope there are plenty of “Home” candidates for those jobs anyway :-)

  19. Looks like they’re directing the blame a little more Northwards.

    Now, im no finance expert, but if you have debts I don’t think you can get pissy when people call them in…

    Luckily, only in a prepper, Red Dawn loving, tinfoil-hat wearing fantasist’s wet dream would Argentina start on America as a distraction from their woes.

  20. Incidentally (and on-topic…) one Reaper or other RPAS with a camera would totally put an end to any Red Dawn/Tomorrow:When the War Began style insurgent fantasies.

    Red Dawn would be a pretty short film these days…

    “You find those pesky Wolverines that have been attacking our convoys in the hills?”
    “Da, Comrade Colonel. RPAS is seeing them on thermal camera, hiding in woods. Sitting around campfire eating deer like caveman. We give them thermobaric rocket, show them what ‘well done’ truely is!”
    “Excellent, proceed with our plan to colonise CONUS for…reasons”

  21. Shame we’re not in a decent financial shape to put together a bail out package for them ourselves. That kind of legitimate olive branch would throw them a curve ball and possibly even open productive dialogue on joint South Atlantic / Antarctic ventures, eh?

  22. ToC, optimist :)

    More likely they’ll just take your money, then laugh in your face if not try for a FI2 thinking that you are going to overlook it because you want “peace”, which was what caused the original situation in the first place, though a FI2 would finally show the world that some leopards don’t change their spots.

  23. Well, we built their railways. Gave them rugby. Even better, horse polo, with some near-royalty thrown in for the deal… And they are still coming back for more?

  24. @TOC
    Re the breeding/voting out the indigenous population of migrant Argentinian Oil workers we need only copy the Gulf states who have large forces of migrant workers but have no legal right to residency (and never will) to do the menial work predominantly. Dubai’s architecture was built by Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers predominantly but when they run out of sand and sea to build on they will all go home.

  25. @Thread – No current risk from the Argentine…but that position could change quickly if a resource-hungry China buys the place from it’s current proprietors, which seems at least plausible. It would be dressed up as a bale-out deal, with large enough under-the-counter cash sweeteners to ensure that Kirchner can buy the next election, followed by long-term contracts keeping the Kirchner trough filled in perpetuity…

    A few years on and the Argentine Armed Forces could look quite different…and might be in a position to “lead” (that is front) a serious effort on the part of all the Chinese Client/Colonies in Latam to “renegotiate” the Antarctic Treaties…

    Certainly not an immediate risk requiring a very costly MPA…but not one to be overlooked in the medium term…


  26. @ TAS

    I agree we don’t need an MPA solution in the FI today but if we start extracting large volumes of oil then the entire force structure down South will I have to change and MPA would be high on the list.

    At 200 million a pop I don’t think we could afford to do this with P8 but at $20 million a go we could do it with reaper.

    Argentina is just too poor to be a credible conventional military threat to anyone but as we are seeing in Eastern Ukraine it is not the conventional threat we need to worry about.

    The forces down South could deal with unconventional threats but the Falklands is a big place and they would need ISTAR to do it.

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