London: A deadly drone controlled by RAF pilots sitting 3,000 miles away Lincolnshire from its unsuspecting prey the jihadists traveling in a vehicle in Raqqa, capital of the so-called Islamic State were wiped out of the face of earth as a hellish ‘Hellfire missile’ blasted them to pieces.
The experienced airmen were operating the controversial £10million Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from a hi-tech control hub at RAF Waddington. Pilots from 13 Squadron ordered the craft – about the size of a small executive jet – to carry out airstrikes from a height of up to 50,000ft using its fearsome arsenal.
But the strike on August 21 was the first time UK aircraft have attacked jihadists in Syria. Britain has as many as ten Reapers in the conflict zone. Once the drones are launched from conventional runways at an airbase in Kuwait, they are controlled from Waddington.
Sitting before a bank of flickering computer screens and controls in two ground stations the size of shipping containers, the RAF pilots steer the drones – officially called Remotely Piloted Air Systems – on operations. The robots fly above the battlefield for up to 14 hours, with cameras beaming live high-definition images and radar data to commanders and crew on the ground.
Keeping a silent eye on a huge area, the devices are able to locate and monitor targets while airstrikes are planned. Once authorised, they can launch the weapons to destroy it.
It takes only seconds to act against enemies such as terrorist leaders and militants – rather than waiting up to an hour for a conventional strike jet to arrive. In the Syrian attack it is believed that an RAF Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft and an RAF Sentinel surveillance plane were involved in lining up the Reaper to hit the target.