The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has deployed five additional MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft to support ground troops operating in Afghanistan.
The Reaper aircraft gather intelligence in support of the Afghan, UK and Nato-led International Security Assistance Force personnel.
The latest deployment will double the Reaper fleet in Afghanistan. They will operate alongside the British army’s Hermes 450 unmanned air systems (UAS).
The Reapers are expected to play a significant role in securing internal security in Afghanistan after the allied forces withdraw from the country later this year.
UK Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister Philip Dunne said: "As we focus on the drawdown of UK forces from Afghanistan, the ability to provide force protection will become increasingly important and Reaper allows us to provide this assurance remotely, and without significant ground presence."
Built by General Atomics, Reapers monitor the target areas to provide real-time intelligence to the ground crew. They
can be armed with laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.
83 Expeditionary Air Group air component commander and commanding air officer air commodore Al Gillespie said the new Reapers will provide vital intelligence and precise strike capability without putting UK personnel at risk.
"As we drawn down from Afghanistan it is precisely this technology that will keep us one step ahead and allow us to combat internal security in the country," Gillespie said.
The military deployments go in parallel with financial and political support being extended to Afghanistan by the foreign governments.
Afghanistan will be offered around £2.6bn a year for reconstruction, development and governance. The UK alone will provide £178m a year until 2017.
Image: The UK Royal Air Force personnel unboxing the fuselage of a Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Photo: courtesy of Sergeant Ross Tilly RAF, Crown copyright.