The Government today confirmed that RAF Waddington’s elite 13 Squadron will remain the spearhead of armed Reaper drones for the foreseeable future.
The Lincolnshire base began controlling armed drones over Afghanistan from an operational theatre at RAF Waddington earlier this year.
But activists insist the shift from a US base was a major switch in drone policy and quickly criticised by opponents of Britain’s military role in Afghanistan.
However, RAF Waddington opened its doors to the media yesterday to debunk the myth that drones are responsible for killing innocent civilians.
But Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, confirmed that the base will remain at the forefront of drone warfare for years.
“The pods we use at Waddington are the same as the deployable pods we use in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Hammond.
“They are designed in that way so that once people are trained on them, they can use them wherever they are – on operations or here.
“Waddington is planned to be the home of this capability. This base will be the home of the RAF’s Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS), along with Creech air base in America.
“The high end RPAS will be based here for the foreseeable future. These are able to deliver so much additional support to our troops on the ground and have such fantastic endurance they can stay in the air for many, many hours, gathering intelligence and feeding it back.”
The RPAS system was purchased by the Ministry of Defence to provide support for collation forces in Afghanistan.
The Reaper RPAS is operated by a pilot and a sensor operator, supported by a mission intelligence coordinator.
A total of 459 weapons have been fired by RAF Waddington squadron personnel in over 54,000 hours of Reaper RPAS operations in Afghanistan.
Critics insist that the use of unmanned drone weapons increases the risk of civilian casualties but the rules of engagement remain the same for manned aircraft.
Mr. Hammond added: “We get pretty fed-up with it. There is only incident where we are aware of casualties occurring. It is very regrettable but that is the nature of warfare and that can happen with piloted aircraft.
“We have in place very strong safeguards, rules of engagement to try to avoid civilian casualties but you can never guarantee that somebody unintended won’t get hurt. That is the nature of warfare.
“This is a myth busting session. These aircraft are operated in exactly the same way as a manned aircraft it is just that the pilot is sitting on the ground instead of in the aircraft.”