A new Reaper squadron is to form at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire which will control the aircraft over Afghanistan from the UK for the first time.
Speaking at the disbandment of Number XIII Tornado Squadron at RAF Marham last week, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, announced that the squadron number will transfer to a second Reaper squadron next year.
With its array of high tech sensors and precision-guided weapons, the remotely-piloted Reaper aircraft, which is based in Afghanistan, can carry out a wide range of missions that are currently controlled by 39 Squadron crews on the other side of the world at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
Reaper can use its sensors day and night to spy on insurgent activity for hours at a time and at a range where it is undetectable from the ground.
Air Chief Marshal Dalton said:
The Royal Air Force is today delivering air power operations in Afghanistan, Libya and the Falkland Islands and, as XIII Squadron’s Tornados have shown, making a fantastic contribution to the very positive progress in the military campaigns in all these locations.
I am confident that XIII Squadron’s reputation and distinguished history will be carried forward as it transitions to be a part of our Remotely Piloted Force employing the Reaper over Afghanistan.
This transition will see us bring Reaper mission control to the UK, make more efficient and effective use of our resources in exploiting this growing capability, and enable the operation of significantly more combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan 24-hours-a-day.
The Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, said:
Reaper aircraft are providing valuable support to our front line troops in Afghanistan. We are committed to providing the best available equipment to our Armed Forces.
The formation of this new squadron follows our doubling of the Reaper capability to ten aircraft, which represents an increased investment of £135m.
This extra squadron will help us get the best out of this valuable armed reconnaissance aircraft.
XIII Squadron was formed in 1915 and has continued its long and distinguished record through both world wars and operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. Notably, in 2009, XIII Squadron conducted the last Tornado sortie over Iraq in support of Operation TELIC.
In the summer of 2010, XIII Squadron deployed on Operation HERRICK in Afghanistan providing close air support and combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance during a very busy fighting season.
Finally, just a few weeks from disbandment, XIII Squadron were at the forefront of operations over Libya, delivering deep strike with the RAF’s Stormshadow missile.