A UK House of Commons Defence Committee report has recognised that remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) are a critical military capability for the UK armed forces in the future.

The provision of enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) by the systems, also called ‘drones’, to ground troops has undoubtedly saved lives and prevented casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report has claimed.

The report, however, notes that the ‘increasingly contentious debate’ in the country in recent years surrounding the development and use of drones has mainly been due to a lack of information or misunderstanding about their operation.

Defence Select Committee House of Commons Chairman James Arbuthnot said the UK aircrews are not video-gaming ‘warrior geeks’ as portrayed by some people, and have keen understanding of the rules of engagement that govern their operations.

"Despite being remote from the battlespace they exhibit a strong sense of connection to the life and death decisions they are sometimes required to take," Arbuthnot said.

"On the basis of the evidence we have received we are satisfied that UK remotely piloted air system operations comply fully with international law."

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UK Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said the Defence Committee’s public recognition of RPAS value and effectiveness, and that their operations fully comply with international law is pleasing given the argument surrounding their use by the UK military.

"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," Francois said.

"We are satisfied that UK remotely piloted air system operations comply fully with international law."

In order to compile the report, the committee visited XIII Squadron, RAF Waddington, which is responsible for operating the hunter-killer Reaper UAVs.

The committee notes that the UK has a robust system in place to review every time one of the UK’s RPA aircraft discharges their weapons.

The report also advises the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to be more open about using drones to increase public confidence in their operations.

The RAF 39 Squadron had been operating MQ-9 Reapers from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, US, to fight against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, since late 2007.

Image: A 13 Squadron pilot remotely controls a Reaper aircraft from RAF Waddington, UK. Photo: Crown ©.

Defence Technology