There was a time when all the world’s military drone strikes were directed from a small base in Nevada. No more. In a first, the United Kingdom has carried out a strike in Afghanistan by pilots controlling the drone from within Britain.
The nature of the strike is unclear. The Ministry of Defence said it “does not discuss details of specific missions for operational security reasons,” according to a statement obtained by Flight, which reported the strike was carried out Tuesday by an armed Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper — most likely launched from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. The ministry merely confirmed that one of its Reaper drones, controlled by pilots from the Royal Air Force’s 13 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire fired a weapon “supporting U.K. forces on the ground in Afghanistan.”
It was only a week after the RAF began to control its drones from home territory. Before, the RAF controlled its squadron of five Reaper drones — each armed with up to two 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway bombs and four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles — from Creech, a U.S. Air Force base in Nevada and a headquarters for Afghanistan’s remotely-operated drone war. According to Flight, Britain’s drones have used their weapons more than 380 times in Afghanistan since 2007 for a “combined total of 45,000 flight hours.” Those strikes were conducted remotely from Creech.
London reportedly finished its drone control center at Waddington sometime in late 2012, according to The Guardian. It includes three remote operating stations. “We aren’t flying any more operations than we were before, but with the time differences between the U.S., Afghanistan and the U.K., it is now possible for pilots at Waddington to work in relay with the those in the U.S.,” one source told the newspaper in late April.