The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew and support staff has started training on the US Air Force’s (USAF) MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations in the US.
Around five RAAF personnel are currently being trained to be MQ-9 air vehicle operators and payload operators at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, while a communication systems engineer is undergoing similar training at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
The training comes less than a week after the US unveiled a new policy for the export of armed military and commercial UAS to foreign countries under strict rules. This includes adherence to international law, as well as a ban on using them for unlawful surveillance or to exert force against their citizens.
Australian Defence Minister Parliamentary Secretary Darren Chester said the training programme offers a cost effective method to increase the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) understanding of complex UAS operations and how this capability can be best used to safeguard its soldiers on future operations.
Chester said: "Unmanned aerial systems are an advancing technology with a proven record of providing ‘eyes in the sky’ in the Middle East region.
"It would be remiss of Australia not to continue to develop our knowledge of this technology to ensure we are able to gain the greatest benefit from unmanned aerial systems and the best protection for our troops on future operations."
"For this reason, the RAAF is training personnel in USAF MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial system operations in the United States."
To date, the UK is the only country to have acquired armed MQ-9 Reaper drones from the US, while France and Italy operate the non-lethal variants, as reported earlier by Reuters.
Despite receiving criticism for their frequent killing of civilians, the weaponised drones have extensively been used by the US for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system and is designed to offer a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets.
Image: A USAF MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land in Afghanistan. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo / Staff Brian Ferguson.