back to article UK's Reaper flying hunter-killer fleet 'to double'

The UK expects to double its fleet of "Reaper" robot hunter-killer aircraft, according to the machines' manufacturer. The MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight Better than a Tornado bomber. General Atomics, which developed the famous Predator drone warplane and its bigger successor the Predator-B/Reaper, announced last week that it …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love Lewis' articles.....

    .... they always give me a good laugh!

  2. alexh2o

    Value for money...

    Clearly you are trying to say we should be buying Reapers at £10mil a pop and this would be more cost effective than Watchkeeper..

    Now I personally have no idea, but I'd be willing to wager that the whole life service costs of the Reapers might be a whole load more than for Watchkeeper! And for that matter I'm guessing Watchkeeper should be easier to maintain and require less "skill" to fly.

    For a UAV in relatively safe air space that is required to simply provide comms/surveillance - is a Reaper not total overkill?

    1. Spartacus

      Wager Accepted..

      The whole life costs of the watchkeeper are likely to be higher than the reaper, with no reasonable explanation, just like the initial costs, and as for easier to fly, well not likely, people need jobs! But this is acceptable as the purchasing descision is really a political decision.

      Multimillion pound contracts are always political issues, and as a national decision you don't look at the cost you look at how much money is being exported. spending £15 million in the UK with only £1 going abroad is far preferable politically than spending £10 million abroad. exporting money in large chunks devalues our economy spending more money here increases our national spending and hence gdp, and increases the value of our economy.

      Not forgetting that money spent and earned here goes around and around and keeps getting skimmed by taxes here so in the end it all goes back to where it started, but as it went around in circles it was someones wgaes, someones bonus and someones taxes.. all part of our gdp. the faster the money goeas around the more times it can be counted. Where as when that money goes abroad that is it game over.

      The key factor that Lewis really should be writing about is where the money goes, because if the the powers that be decide to spend more with a company with British in the name but in reality said company is just a front for a US arms behemoth, and the money is really just being loaded on a ship and sailed away then the powers that be have really fucked up, and will be deserving of whatever comes their way.

      Keeping British workers employed by British defence budgets is not such a bad thing. Even if it 'looks' like a more expensive aircraft on paper.

      Wager placed. 1 Pint icon seems apt.

  3. John Ruddy

    Why in the states?

    Why cant we have these things controlled from the UK? It might make a use for some of these bases we are having to lose, and at least keep the money int he lcoal economy.

    1. Velv

      Excellent Point - Double it up :)

      "opening a new office in London to support the British Reaper fleet"

      What they really mean is - a new office in London to sell more to the MoD.

      Supporting the British Reaper Fleet is already done in Nevada. London would be the last place in the UK you'd want to set up the support office if you wanted to move it to the UK. Any number of existing military bases would be substantially cheaper.

      1. Mr Mark V Thomas

        Re: Double it Up

        It's actually the sales office for General Atomics U.K, which currently are trying to sell the MOD, & possibly other European States, such as Italy, their proposed next generation UAV, Avenger, as a replacement for Reaper in 2015...

        Avenger itself is a swept wing rework of Predator/Reaper, which replaces the turboprop engine used by the above, with a small Pratt & Whitney turbofan engine, giving it according to General Atomics's ad blurb, a top speed of over 500 Knots...

    2. MinionZero

      "Why cant we have these things controlled from the UK"

      What?! ... Hang on...

      So we buy them, from the US, but you are saying the US are the ones controlling them?!. WTF!

      If the US are controlling them, then they are US aircraft, not UK aircraft.

      So they are US made and controlled aircraft ... that we have to pay for?!

      So is this the future of the UK military, where we rebrand future robot US military tech, as if its ours, but its not really ours at all, we just pay the bills and then the US decides who they want to blow up with it and everyone else then looks at us and says, "why did you just do that?!" ... what's our answer to be? .... "ummm well we didn't do that, it was the US that made the choice, but we back them, oh yes, we back them (special relationship, special relationship)".

      Sounds like one more big step towards us being just another US state (without being able to vote over there). Our politicians special relationship with the US must include bending over on command from their US masters.

      The US really have a wonderful deal there. So is there any other military hardware the US want us to pay for, that they still control?!

      1. Steve Crook


        It's a support office. You know the one you ring when the wheels fall off or the engine backfires. afaik these will be flown by Brits, from British bases.

        This is a tacit acknowledgement that the Watchkeeper is actually not fit for anything, except target practice for ground to air missile systems.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Why cant we have these things controlled from the UK"

        No offence, I don’t think you fully got the jist of how they are controlled.

        Effectively there is a RAF Sqn who are based at the facility in Nevada. From this control room, they "fly" the reapers. Yes it is an American base but no Americans take control of the drones that are designated for UK control.

        The reason they have to be controlled from Nevada is mostly (I suspect) because it's so the USAF can make sure the MOD don’t get hold of the software and improve/take it for themselves. Officially though, it's cheaper to send the "pilots" there to fly the drones then it is to make a new control centre over here, especially when we only have half a dozen of them.

        Anon as I’ve been there, done that and got married by Elvis in the process!

      3. Yag

        So is there any other military hardware the US want us to pay for, that they still control?!

        Mmmh... Nuclear-tipped ICBMs would be a good idea.


  4. karl 15

    Don't fear the Reaper do do do

    All our times have come

    Here but now they're gone

    Seasons don't fear the reaper

    Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain

    We can be like they are

    Come on baby... Don't fear the Reaper

    Baby take my hand... Don't fear the Reaper

    We'll be able to fly... Don't fear the Reaper

    Baby I'm your man...

    1. Barticus

      I was thinking more along the lines of...

      'There's a Mr Grim here....he's come about the reaping'.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't fear the Reaper do do do

      More cowbell!!

  5. Banther dodo

    Save money

    Send in the salmon mouse instead. That's give Jonny Taleban something to chew over!

  6. Desk Jockey

    As slagged off by the US DoD

    So Reapers are great huh? Then why did Robert Gates, Pentagon Chief Pen Pusher, slag off the whole Reaper programme a couple of years back for refusing to innovate or resist land grabs by the US Air Force? Note he was slagging off the programme, not the product. Mr Gates was comparing the programme to the US Army system which was using lower qualified sergeants to fly their systems and were open to great ideas, unlike the Reaper crowd who were protecting Reaper from any innovation through a series of walled gardens.

    As for why the UK flies them out of Nevada, that is because the US does not allow them to fly them from the UK. Sersitive tech secrets to be protected "dontcha know"! What Lewis doesn't mention is that the US will only let US personnel support and maintain the Reapers and you can only use them on their terms. There are lots of benefits to doing so, but don't kid yourself into thinking the UK actually owns the Reapers in any proper sense. In some cases, US stubborness on the issues is preventing the UK from using Reapers to properly support its soldiers. Yes, this does mean UK service personnel could be losing their lives because the US won't let the UK 'do stuff' that is not approved of by the US. Welcome to the real world!

    As for comparing the payload of a Tornado with a Reaper??? WTF is Lewis on? That is like comparing a van carrying oranges to a truck carrying oranges and apples! In case it escapes your attention, the Tornado is a bigger bomber and it actually carries more ordinance, not just hellfires. It also carries two thinking humans on board who will make a decision on whether to bomb something or not based on what they know, can hear from the radio or see with their own eyes. This is 'situational judgement' that the airman 3000 miles away wont have. Ask all those civilians killed by Reaper fired Hellfires how they feel about it! At least the Tornado has the option of doing a low level pass with afterburners on to let the local 'freedom fighters' know that it is time to move on quietly. The RAF uses this a hell of a lot just to scare people when they are not quite sure if there are collaterals mixed in with the fighters.

    A poor, poor article.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    OK, perhaps a more reasoned argument would have been useful....

    A good percentage of what Mr Page says is valid, but it glosses over some salient facts. Yes, Raptor (and the like) are cheaper than Tornado/Typhoon (which despite his recent articles IS a pretty capable bomb truck - or so I have been told by friends in the RAF); yes, it can carry more Hellfires than a Tornado (and many more than the Harrier he was so recently favouring); and yes, it can stay longer on station.

    What it can't do is react quickly to changing circumstances; a pilot can identify swiftly that the target may actually be civilian rather than military/terrorist and abort the attack; the remore piloting of Predator means there is an inevitable timelag which, in a combat situation, can be disastrous - there is more than one documented case of a Predator strike causing "collateral damage" due to faulty intelligence.

    Another thing it can't do, at present, is carry as wide a variety of ordnance as Tornado, which must restrict it's operational usefulness. I'm sure, as the technology further matures, this will change but limitations will always remain; yes, losing a Predator is cheaper than losing(for example) a Typhoon - but the Typhoon can fight back, so may not be lost in the first instance.

    Duncan Sandys declared the manned aircraft dead way back in 1957 - somebody forgot to tell the pilots they were no longer needed.

  8. Will Gilpin
    Thumb Down

    What Tosh

    This article is so cliched it's almost funny. A new toy will solve all your military problems eh? Have we heard this before?

    Try air to air refuelling for the round trip from the UK with your drone. Try attacking more than one target. Try carrying a 'bunker buster'.

    Drones are great. They have changed the face of warfare, and one day there will be no more manned strike aircraft, but not today. These slow, vulnerable aircraft with their small payloads are just another tool in the box, that's all.

  9. Domster
    Thumb Down


    Actually the Tornado cannot carry Hellfire missiles, no fast jet can. The Tornado actually carries Brimstone missiles, which look like Hellfire missiles but share no parts. The Brimstone has a British designed guidance system, warhead and rocket motor. Originally designed as an autonomous anti tank missile, it can be fired in salvos, with each missile independently searching for a target using an advanced milimetric radar. It apparently can tell the difference between a tank and say a car or truck. In 2009 an urgent request by the MOD for the addition of a laser seeker to the missile was implemented by MBDA in good time. The missile has been used to great affect in Afghanistan against snipers in buildings, where its small warhead minimises collateral damage and against tanks in Libya.

    Nobody else has a missile as sophisticated as Brimstone for killing tanks, not even the Americans, whose own dual seeker mode missile is stuck in development hell. A British Military success story, eat your heart out Mr Page.

  10. despairing citizen

    Most Purposes

    "Reapers are the most powerful unmanned combat aircraft available at present, and for most purposes are better than manned strike jets such as the RAF's Tornado. "

    Most Purposes presumably means no enemy ECM capability, no real Air Defence capability (and ZSU-23's,etc. don't count), and the UK enjoying Air Supremacy, not just air superioty.

    So 3rd world countries look out, here we come.

    Drones are usefull tools, but until we have decent AI, they will be dependant on pre-programing or remote control.

    1. Adam White

      RE: Most Purposes

      "Drones are usefull tools, but until we have decent AI, they will be dependant on pre-programing or remote control."

      You say that like it's a bad thing

      1. Will Gilpin

        RE: Re:

        it is a bad thing. War is dynamic, and remote control degrades situational awareness enormously. We don't put humans, ejector seats, canopies, instruments, oxygen etc. in fighter aircraft because its fun, we do it because its the best processor we have and worth the extra weight.

        One day soon, maybe machines will do better. Not yet.

  11. Martin Taylor 1

    Re: Most Purposes

    There is the odd difficulty with unmanned aircraft in some conflict environments. See

  12. /dev/null

    14 Hellfires?

    Erm, according to Mr Page's own link to the USAF website, make that up to *four* Hellfires.

  13. Triggerfish


    Lewis you always miss out the extra costs when promoting American kit. The selling of this stuff is no diferent to a software company selling its product cheap and making the money from the tie in support contracts. If you weant to convince me please do a proper breakdown of the costs, otherwise stop this America f yeah crap.

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