Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems

Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence

1 Introduction

1.1 This memorandum provides written evidence for the House of Commons Defence Committee’s Inquiry into Remotely Piloted Air Systems - current and future use.

1.2 Drawing on the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) experience of owning and operating these systems, it will examine:

· Nomenclature - defining associated terms

· Current use and Dispersal - explaining what the MOD uses these systems for and where?

· Lessons on their use from Afghanistan

· Tomorrow’s Potential - detailing MOD plans for their development

· Constraints - commenting on constraints imposed by Airspace Regulation and the environment.

· Legal and Ethical issues

2 Nomenclature - defining what is meant by the terms Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and associated terms.

2.1 The origins of unmanned aircraft can be traced back to the First World War. But the last decade has seen extraordinary development and rapid progress in unmanned aircraft technology and capability. Much of the original terminology has, as a result, become outdated and manufacturers and operators have created a new descriptive language for the aircraft, their capabilities and consequent issues. As systems have matured, there is also an increasing requirement for standardised terminology.

2.2 To help avoid confusion and prevent misunderstanding, in 2010 and 2011, the MOD produced Joint Doctrine Note (JDN) JDN 3/10 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): Terminology, Definitions & Classification and JDN 2/11 – The UK Approach to UAS. These documents outline the standard UK military terminology and classification to be used when describing UAS within UK Defence and when working with NATO and other international partners. UK based academia and industry are encouraged to adopt the standard to improve interoperability. Both JDNs are in the public domain and can be accessed through the Defence section of

2.3 The term Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) had previously been used extensively in the UK. But it is no longer aligned with NATO thinking and, in the interests of interoperability, UAV should now be considered a legacy term. A recent NATO Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Panel was tasked to re-examine unmanned aircraft related terminology from first principles and to make recommendations on the way ahead; JDNs 2/11 & 3/10 largely reflect the outcome of that discussion and subsequent recommendations.

2.4 The following are terms defined in JDNs 2/11 & 3/10:

2.5 Unmanned Aircraft (UA)

An Unmanned Aircraft (sometimes abbreviated to UA) is defined as an aircraft that does not carry a human operator…

2.6 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is defined as a system, whose components include the unmanned aircraft and all equipment, network and personnel necessary to control the unmanned aircraft.

2.7 UAS is the generic term that defines the totality of the components of an unmanned aircraft, together with the other necessary components including all equipment, networks and personnel. The MOD operate a range of UAS principally for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.

2.8 Although UAS is the preferred term in a military environment, there are occasions when such a generic term is unhelpful. The term ‘unmanned’ can cause confusion or uncertainty over the actual level of human control and has led to safety, ethical and legal concerns being raised, particularly with regard to the employment of weapons and flight in non-segregated airspace. These concerns can be addressed in part by using terminology that better describes the level of human control of such aircraft as being equivalent to that of piloted aircraft; the pilot is simply physically remote from the aircraft itself. Consequently, the MOD believes it is more appropriate to use the term Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to describe such aircraft, and Remotely Piloted Air(craft) System (RPAS) to describe the entirety of that which it takes to deliver the overall capability.

2.9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft

A Remotely Piloted Aircraft is defined as an aircraft that, whilst it does not carry a human operator, is flown remotely by a pilot, is normally recoverable, and can carry a lethal or non-lethal payload.

2.10 Remotely Piloted Air(craft) System (RPAS)

A Remotely Piloted Air(craft) System is the sum of the components required to deliver the overall capability and includes the Pilot, Sensor Operators (if applicable), RPA, Ground Control Station, associated manpower and support systems, Satellite Communication links and Data Links.

2.11 RPAS is thus a specific class of UAS. It is appropriate to use the term RPAS to emphasise the reality that a trained professional pilot is in control of the system. Of note, the critical legislative aviation authorities, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Aviation Safety Agency use the term RPAS.

2.12 Unmanned Combat Aircraft System (UCAS): UCAS is a proposed class of UAS with offensive and defensive capabilities on a par with current manned systems to allow them to operate in contested airspace when necessary. Such a capability does not yet exist.

2.13 Automation and Autonomy. There is often a misconception that UAS are autonomous systems. This is not true as there is always a human involved in the decision making process. Industry and academia often discuss automation and autonomy interchangeably, referring to technology research for all types of UAS. There are no universally agreed definitions. But the MOD defines autonomy as a machine’s ability to understand higher level intent, being capable of deciding a course of action without depending on human oversight and control. Automation refers to a system that is programmed to logically follow a pre-defined set of rules with predictable outcomes, such as an automatic landing system. Improving capability can include automating part of a process to make the remote Pilot or operator’s job easier. But current UK policy is that the operation of weapon systems will always be under human control. No planned offensive systems are to have the capability to prosecute targets without involving a human.

2.14 It should be noted that most existing manned aircraft terminology remains equally relevant to unmanned aircraft operations.

3 Current Utility and Dispersal

For what purposes are UAS and RPAS currently used?

3.1 The UK currently only deploys UAS in support of operations in Afghanistan.

3.2 UAS are predominately used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks providing vital intelligence in support of our forces on the ground. They can provide persistent full motion video (optical and infra-red) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images (platform dependant), for the development of situational awareness in order to conduct planning. These formats can also be converted into still images. The data can also be disseminated rapidly for analysis in the UK. While the utility of the sensors is broadly similar to those on board conventionally manned aircraft, UAS have the ability to loiter for longer, building an intelligence picture that significantly enhances the situational awareness of commanders on the ground and aircrew. In Afghanistan UAS provide intelligence in support of our ground commanders, enabling them to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Whether for targeting the Taliban or supporting troops on patrol, their ability to loiter over and survey areas for enemy activity and then feed back images and video in real time means they are an invaluable asset to our forces on the ground. Together, the UK’s fleet of UAS have carried out over 160,000 hours of ISR operations.

3.3 The UK REAPER RPAS can also conduct strike operations against positively identified targets using precision munitions. REAPER is the only armed UK RPAS. It does not have the capability to fire weapons autonomously and can only fire its weapons when commanded to do so by the fully trained and qualified flight crew. When tasked to attack a target, qualified REAPER pilots can select from two types of precision-guided weapons. They will select the smallest warhead appropriate to the target being attacked, and every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties, aborting attacks when necessary as is the case with manned aircraft. The policy for their use is the same as that for manned aircraft. Their persistence means aircrews usually observe a target area for a significant period prior to, and following, an engagement. This allows them to assess target validity, the likelihood of collateral damage and to observe the consequences of an attack in detail. Associated legal issues are discussed later at Section 7. By 31 August 2013, the UK’s only armed UAS (REAPER RPAS) had flown over 50,000 hours on operations in the ISR role. In the same period 418 precision-guided weapons were fired from REAPER.

3.4 UAS can also be used as communication relay platforms for ground forces, aircraft and maritime units.

What UAS capability does the MOD currently possess or operate?

3.5 The British Army currently operate four unarmed UAS systems in Afghanistan. All were procured on an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) basis. They are Hermes 450 (a Tactical UAS) - Desert Hawk - Tarantula Hawk, which operates solely as part of the TALISMAN Improvised Explosive Device (IED) route clearing capability, and BLACK HORNET, a hand launched nano-UAS (i.e. miniature UAS). Army operated UAS are used for passive ISR purposes only. They are not armed, and have no offensive role.  Their current purpose is to support UK, ISAF and Afghan forces. The supported forces will submit an ISR request in advance and, once a UAS has been tasked, the mission will be planned in close cooperation with the Ground Force, and communications maintained throughout the mission to ensure threats and opportunities are exploited rapidly.

3.6 The RAF operate REAPER. This is the UK’s only armed RPAS and has been armed with precision-guided weapons since May 2008, providing an offensive capability if needed by ground commanders.

3.7 The Royal Navy plan to operate SCANEAGLE beginning later this year which is a working surveillance system. A concept demonstration was conducted for the Royal Navy from a Bay Class Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship during December 2012. In June 2013 Boeing UK was awarded a contract for Maritime UAS in support of Royal Navy and RFA ships. The SCANEAGLE system was developed by Insitu and is currently in service with nine other nations and operated from more than thirty platforms.

3.8 Table 1 below provides details of MOD’s current range of UAS.

Table 1: Current MOD Systems (as at 1st April 2013)


Number of UAS




REAPER RPAS is a medium altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft system providing ISR capabilities to UK and coalition ground forces in Afghanistan . It is the only armed RPAS used by the UK . T he aircraft fleet is rising to ten aircraft during 201 3 as the new aircraft are accepted into service. RAF aircrew operate the aircraft in Afghanistan from control stations based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire and Creech Air Force Base in the United States . Since it came into service in 2007 REAPER has flown over 50,000 hours on operations supporting ground forces in Afghanistan .



HERMES 450 is a Tactical UAS providing ISR capability (principally video) in support of UK ground forces in Afghanistan. The system is provided to the UK MOD via a service provision contract with Thales. HERMES 450 is operated by 1st Artillery Brigade. Since it came into service in 2007 HERMES 450 has flown over 84,000 hours on operations supporting ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan .



DESERT HAWK III is a mini UAS providing an organic ISR capability (principally video) to Platoon, Company and Battle Group level ground forces in Afghanistan. Currently there are 12 DESERT HAWK III systems operated in Afghanistan. The majority of these systems are operated by 1st Artillery Brigade. Each comprises between eight and ten aircraft. Since it came into service in 2007 D ESERT HAWK III has flown over 27,500 hours on operation in support of forces in Afghanistan .



BLACK HORNET is a nano UAS providing ‘over the wall’ ISR capability (video) and is operated by the Infantry. There are 162 systems in operation. Each complete system comprises a handheld controller, a display, a base station and two Black Hornet Aircraft.



The TARANTULA HAWK ( T - Hawk) is a mini UAS, part of the TALISMAN Route Proving and Clearance capability and is used for C-IED Convoy Protection on operations. T-HAWK is operated by 1st Artillery Brigade soldiers embedded in the Royal Engineer squadron.

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What Governance and Oversight arrangements are in place for the use of UAS

in the UK and overseas?

3.9 UK governance and oversight arrangements for UAS deployed on operations are exactly the same as those used for all UK forces. The same strict ROE that govern the use of conventional military aircraft also apply to UAS operations in Afghanistan. UAS do not currently operate in the UK or elsewhere other than for training or trials purposes.

3.10 All UK operations are authorised by Ministers and directed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in accordance with agreed plans. The chains of command for the tasking of UAS in Afghanistan are summarised below:

Army Operated UAS (Hermes 450, Dessert Hawk III, T Hawk, Black Hornet):

Full Command - Chief of the General Staff

Operational Command - Chief of Joint Operations

Operational Control - Commander Task Force Helmand


Full Command - Chief of the Air Staff

Operational Command - Chief of Joint Operations

Operational Control - Commander ISAF

Tactical Command – UK Air Component Commander

3.11 Definition of the command terms above can be found in Allied Joint Publication (AJP)-01(D): Allied Joint Doctrine and can be accessed through the Defence section of

3.12 As with UK manned combat aircraft, where operational control of UK RPAS is assigned to a Coalition Commander, such as the Commander of ISAF, the commander can only direct UK UAS operations within the constraints of UK ROE and policy. A UK officer ‘Red Card holder’ is assigned to each ISAF HQ, with responsibility for coalition operations including the use of UK UAS, so that UK ROE and policy are strictly adhered to. Crews operating UAS receive training on a regular basis on domestic and international law concerning the use of force by UK forces in Afghanistan. Training includes the understanding of, and compliance with, UK ROE. In addition, UAS crews have access to legal advice and support during operations 24 hours a day, every day of the year (this includes the ability to talk with legal advisors and commanders by phone if required, an option not available to crews of manned aircraft).

3.13 The UK policy relating to targeting by RPAS is exactly the same as that for manned aircraft (and land and maritime weapons where applicable). It is entirely compliant with International Humanitarian Law. Targets are always positively identified as legitimate military objectives and both pattern of life assessment and collateral damage estimate conducted. Strikes are carried out in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict.

3.14 The ROE used for REAPER weapon releases are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft. The weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, which may include deciding not to fire a weapon. REAPER is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to fire weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew.

4. Lessons Learned: from operations in Afghanistan

4.1. There are a range of lessons that have been identified from seven years of operating UK UAS in Afghanistan. UAS have become important to support the never ending drive for better intelligence, precision and situational awareness. With the progress of technology and increasing appreciation of their military utility, the number deployed in Afghanistan has continued to grow. It is difficult to imagine a future campaign where such technology will not have a role to play.

4.2 The key UAS strength demonstrated in Afghanistan is persistence, which means that a lot more ISR can be achieved than is true from manned air platforms, whose endurance is often considerably less.

4.3 Persistence also maximises precision. The MOD is only aware of one incident involving an armed UK RPAS (REAPER), which resulted in the deaths of civilians. On 25 March 2011, an attack on two pick-up trucks resulted in the destruction of a significant quantity of explosives and the death of two insurgents. Sadly, four Afghanistan civilians were also killed. In line with current ISAF procedures, an ISAF investigation was conducted to establish if any lessons could be learned or if any errors in operational procedures could be identified. In that case, the report concluded that the actions of the REAPER crew had been in accordance with extant procedures and rules of engagement.

4.4 This in turn depends on highly qualified personnel. The UK experience of operating the REAPER RPAS in Afghanistan suggests that REAPER aircrew, despite being based at RAF Waddington and Creech Air Force Base in the US, are just as, if not more, connected to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan as compared to operators of other aircraft types. The increased information available to operators and subsequently ground commanders, the endurance of REAPER and the substantial operational experience of REAPER crews, whose years of experience flying missions over Afghanistan, results in an unrivalled depth of knowledge. This in itself can make a significant contribution to the safety and security of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan, while also helping to minimise the risk to civilians.

4.5 In terms of the more tactical lessons to be drawn from Afghanistan it is a well established theatre, with adequate basing and lines of communication, operating in permissive (and relatively uncongested) air space, against a technologically unsophisticated adversary. The lessons may not be universally applicable.

5. Tomorrow’s Potential – What additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?

5.1 The MOD is considering whether UAS (REAPER, DESERT HAWK III, BLACK HORNET, TARANTULA HAWK) acquired as UORs for Op HERRICK should be retained as core programmes or not, when UK forces redeploy in 2014. WATCHKEEPER will be the core UAS capability for Tactical Army ISR when it enters service. The MOD also has in place programmes that could deliver new UAS fleets in the period to 2020 and research to determine the future beyond that. Detail of future programmes is in paragraphs 5.2 - 5.7 and at Table 2 below. Legal issues regarding procurement and introduction into service are considered later in Section 7.

5.2 WATCHKEEPER . A tactical UAS, this is the UK MO D ’s largest current UAS procurement programme (approx £1Bn) and will provide operational commanders with unmanned day/night all weather capability to detect and track targets without the need to deploy troops into potentially sensitive areas. The system consists of unmanned aircraft, sensors, data links and ground control stations. There are no plans to fit weapons. The WATCHKEEPER D evelopment, Manufacture and Initial Support ( D MIS) contract was awarded to Thales UK (Prime) in 2005 and is being produced at UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (UTacs) in Leicester , UK . The first UK flight took place in Parc Aberporth, West Wales in April 2010 and since then over 400 hours of operational flight trials have taken place. WATCHKEEPER is planned to be delivered through an incremental development programme to allow the system to benefit from both existing and emerging future sensors and air vehicle technology. WATCHKEEPER did not achieve its forecast in-service date of April 2012 as the system was not yet proven against Release to Service regulations. The delay to the introduction of WATCHKEEPER into service is being mitigated by the continuation of the Hermes 450 service provision to ensure there is no capability impact on current operations.

5.3 SCAVENGER . The UK SCAVENGER Programme will deliver the future UK capability for deep and persistent armed ISR collect from 2018 to 2030, currently provided by the REAPER UOR. The programme is pre-Initial Gate . I t is currently planned to be met by a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS. A MALE UAS operates at approx 20,000ft and is capable of conducting ISR across a very wide area; it also has the potential to be armed and to therefore deliver a solution to meet the SCAVENGER requirement. The SCAVENGER Assessment Phase is focused on maturing and de-risking the sole-source acquisition of a future variant of REAPER, as a Military-Off-The-Shelf solution. The UK is still considering acquisition options to satisfy its SCAVENGER capability requirement, including retaining its REAPER as a Core Capability. Nothing has been ruled out and UK remains open to considering cooperative options.

5.4 TARANIS. The MOD has long held a requirement for capabilities that allow the timely engagement of targets deep behind enemy lines. While this has historically been fulfilled by manned aircraft, it is recognised that an UCAS could offer a cost-effective solution in the future. The TARANIS programme will result in a one-off flying Technology Demonstration Vehicle (TDV) comparable in size to a Hawk trainer aircraft. The current contract is for approx £180M. The TDV will demonstrate the successful integration of off-the-shelf technologies, including, automation, command and control, sensor integration, and payload integration. The TDV is not designed to drop weapons, but will include simulated weapon release as part of a mission representative scenario. UK policy is that there will always be a human in control of any decision making process involving weapons.

5.5 Any future in-service systems based on such a concept design will at all times be under the command of highly skilled ground-based crews controlling a platform able to operate in contested airspace behind enemy lines unlike current unmanned systems.

5. 6 Future Combat Aircraft Systems (FCAS) . The UK and France have a requirement to examine the options for the next generation of combat aircraft systems after Rafale and Typhoon are due to come out of service in the 2030 timeframe. One option being considered is UCAS. The FCAS Preparation Phase contracts are progressing. The UK must make a strategic capability decision at S D SR15 on FCAS and therefore the next phase of the programme is important to de-risk critical technologies, this work will underpin SDSR15 decision making

5.7 Maritime. The introduction of SCANEAGLE will permit Royal Navy experience of operating UAS and lead to consideration of further UAS development in the maritime domain. In addition, concept work is being conducted to assess the viability of rotary wing UAS in the maritime domain to operate from smaller vessels although it remains in the conceptual development stage. The Navy aspires to introduce a fleet of assured and integrated UAS to deliver Mine Counter Measures, hydrographic capabilities, maritime surveillance and force protection functions.

Table 2 : F uture MO D Systems


Number of UAS




WATCHKEEPER is not yet in service and is planned to replace HERMES 450. WATCHKEEPER is the core Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System which will provide enduring ISR support to UK ground forces. It is equipped with a radar surveillance capability in addition to video. The original design and manufacturing contract was placed with Thales UK in 2005. The first UK flight took place in Parc Aberporth, West Wales in April 2010.


SCAN EAGLE is a UAS being delivered to meet a UOR for additional maritime surveillance. The capability is expected to start becoming available to the Royal Navy from late 2013 onwards. The capability will be provided as a service provision by the contractor (Boeing UK) and will initially consist of 300 hrs surveillance per month.


SCAVENGER is the MO D ’s core requirement for a D eep and Persistent Armed ISR capability, from 2018. Analysis has indicated a medium altitude, long endurance RPAS-class system is t he most cost-effective solution. MO D is considering acquisition options from around the globe . A t this stage the UK has not ruled out any possibilities and potential opportunities remain for international co-operation.


The Royal Navy has awarded a contract to Agusta Westland to provide a Capability Investigation and Concept demonstrator of an unmanned rotary wing air system. The air vehicle used for the demonstration will be a 1.8 ton helicopter which will demonstrate radar, electro-optics, mine counter measures and hydrographic survey capabilities.


Project TARANIS is a UCAS technology demonstrator programme focusing on the next generation of Low Observable intelligence and attack aircraft. It will provide the MO D with experimental evidence on the potential capabilities, helping to inform decisions on the future mix of manned and remotely piloted systems. UCAS will not replace any of the RAF’s front-line aircraft in the short term, but in the longer term a mix of manned fast-jets and UCAS could be used on operations. TARANIS ground tests commenced in 2010 and flight trials took place in 2013. TARANIS investment will be exploited in Future Combat Aircraft Systems which will offer more advanced capabilities compared to the current generation of aircraft. Given the nature of combat operations there will always be a role for highly skilled operators and pilots to ensure that remotely piloted combat missions are conducted appropriately, proportionately and legally.


The UK and France have a requirement to examine the options for the next generation of combat aircraft systems after Rafale and Typhoon are due to come out of service in the 2030 timeframe. One option being considered is Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems and work has commenced scoping a cooperative D emonstration Programme.

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What Current and Prospective Partnerships working on UAS is the UK Engaged in?

5.8 Industry: ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) is a UK industry-led consortium which is focusing on the development of technologies, systems and procedures with a specific emphasis on unmanned aircraft systems. It was created in 2006 to research and demonstrate how a remotely piloted aircraft could be safely integrated into airspace shared with other aircraft. The consortium is unique in its holistic approach to the challenge, addressing both the human-side of the equation (legislation and the operational control of remotely piloted aircraft), and the technical challenges.  

5.9 The consortium is led by seven UK companies (AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, Qinetiq, Rolls Royce, Thales) plus a further 70 SMEs and universities. The aim of the programme is to enable the routine use of UAS in all classes of airspace without the need for restrictive or specialised conditions of operation. It is a £62M programme, which was split into two phases (each lasting for three years). Phase 2 ended on 31 March 2013; 50% of the funding came from the industry partners, with the remainder from government.

5.1 0 The MO D is an observer of ASTRAEA, not an active participant . It is impressed with the consortium’s approach and progress to date.

5.1 1 Multinationa l. The UK will continue to support the Anglo-French D efence and Security treaty through all of its cooperative equipment programmes. At the 2012 Summit UK and France agreed to examine cooperation opportunities for WATCHKEEPER and an initial study concluded that there was potential for mutual benefit as a result of cooperating on the system. The UK agreed to support France to conduct an Operational Assessment of the system in France to help inform their investment decision for a Tactical UAS. In order to facilitate the Assessment , UK MO D established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide access to the WATCHKEPER training facility and the loan of UK MO D equipment to enable live flying in France . The WATCHKEEPER MOU was signed by D efence Min isters on the 24 July 2012. As described above, UK and France are also examining remotely piloted systems as an option for the next generation of combat aircraft systems .

6. Constraints on the use of UAS in the UK and Overseas

6.1 The Secretary of State for Transport has policy responsibility for the operation of civil RPAS (the preferred civil term). All civilian operations are closely regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), such as the regulation in the CAA’s CAP722 (UAS: UK Airspace Guidance) and are treated in the same manner as that of an equivalent manned aircraft. This applies to all aspects of ‘unmanned’ aviation, from the initial design and construction, or airworthiness, through to the safety requirements of how it is flown and operated. This viewpoint is shared internationally. For the smaller sized, lightweight systems (referred to as small unmanned aircraft) which are flown at short range and always within the sight of the person flying them, these are overseen to a lesser extent by the CAA, proportional to the level of risk involved.

6.2 The Government recognises the importance of the growth of the remotely piloted part of the aviation sector and the need to support the further development of associated technologies. The overall objective of the Government and also the European Commission, is to enable the full and safe integration of RPA into the total aviation system, sharing the same airspace as their manned counterparts. The UK is actively contributing to the development of harmonised, international RPAS regulations. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is currently developing RPAS Guidance Material, due for publication in autumn 2014, with Standards expected about two years later. The European Commission’s RPAS Roadmap was published on 20 June 2013. This sets out the milestones and timing aimed at an incremental integration of RPAS into European airspace from 2016, with the publication of Implementing Rules for operations, personnel licensing and certification from 2018 onwards.

6.3 RPAS Operating in the UK Just like manned aviation, the avoidance of collisions is the primary concern while an RPAS is in flight. With this in mind, RPAS operations are split into two basic categories and are either flown within the ‘visual line of sight’ of the pilot, which is described as ‘VLOS’, or they are flown ‘beyond the visual line of sight’ of the pilot, which is described as ‘BVLOS’

6.4 For VLOS operations, the pilot discharges his responsibilities to ‘see and avoid’ other aircraft and obstructions by directly observing the RPAS and the airspace surrounding it. This is the same way that model aircraft are flown and indeed, the same basic requirements apply. The effectiveness of visual observation is clearly limited by the size and colour of the UAS, the weather conditions and the surrounding landscape; for these reasons, VLOS operations are normally only accepted out to a maximum distance of 500m horizontally, or 400ft vertically, from the Remote Pilot.

6.5 In order to cater for the lack of a pilot in the aircraft ‘looking out’, RPAS that are intended to be flown BVLOS must be equipped with an alternative method of collision avoidance. This requires a technical solution, generically termed ‘Detect And Avoid’ (DAA). Without such a collision avoidance system, an RPAS’s flight must be contained within segregated airspace, to which access for manned aircraft is prevented or closely controlled. The development of an effective DAA system is key to the safe integration of RPAS. While DAA systems are under development worldwide, none have yet been approved for RPAS use in non-segregated airspace.

6.6 At present, there is a steadily growing ‘community’ of civilian RPAS operators within the UK, although all are working at the ‘small unmanned aircraft’ end of the scale and are flown at very short range, within the visual line of sight of the pilot. The majority are less than 7 kg mass, which has many parallels with recreational model flying. It is viewed as being simpler, available and relatively affordable but tends to attract individuals or organisations with little or no previous aviation experience.

6.7 Activity at the larger end of the scale, where the ‘flying’ element of the system is of a size more comparable to a manned aircraft, is taking much longer to establish itself; this is directly related to solving the additional technical challenges associated with flight at greater distances and altitudes, in particular, the airworthiness requirements and the capability to avoid collisions.

6.8 Within this larger sized sector, WATCHKEEPER is the only system currently flying in the UK and is undergoing Test and Evaluation flights at Aberporth, (which utilises West Wales Airport and a segregated airspace both over water and over land), before entry into service with the Army. Some organisations have made initial approaches to the CAA in order to commence the certification process but as yet there are no large civilian RPAS flying in the UK.

6.9 UK Regulation and Airworthiness The safe operation of civil RPAS in the UK is governed by the requirements of the Air Navigation Order 2009 (ANO). RPAS with an operating mass of more than 20 kg (60g for military UAS) are subject to regulation as though they are manned aircraft. RPAS with an operating mass of 20 kg (60g for military UAS) or less are referred to as ‘small unmanned aircraft’. These are exempt from the majority of the regulations that normally apply to manned aircraft; however their use is specifically covered by two articles within the ANO, which legislate for the ‘general’ flying aspects and the flight of those equipped for surveillance. As well as these specific articles however, a more general article which prevents a person ‘causing or permitting an aircraft to endanger the safety of any person or property’ also remains applicable. Military registered UAS are regulated by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA). Currently, the MAA does not differentiate the regulatory requirements based on the size of the UAS. As with all other aircraft, RPAS will only be permitted to operate in UK airspace if it is considered that it is safe for them to do so. RPAS specific airworthiness regulations are in the early stages of development, but this is being done on an international scale, with a view to global harmonisation, rather than the UK ‘going it alone’.

6.10 There are no specific airworthiness standards for civil RPAS with a mass of 20 kg or below. Specific standards for such small aircraft would be disproportionate to the size and relative risk to third parties. It is the responsibility of the ‘person in charge’ of the small unmanned aircraft to satisfy him/herself that the flight can be safely made and, while flying the RPAS, he/she is required to operate it in a way that will not endanger any person or property. In certain circumstances however, the CAA might require additional airworthiness assessments for small unmanned aircraft - for example, for flights over people, or flights which will go beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot

6.11 All military aircraft are operated under the authority of the Duty Holder (DH). DHs are personally nominated for each platform and are legally accountable and answerable to the Secretary of State for Defence for the safe operation of the platform under their control. The DH has to personally ensure that the risk to life from the operation of the platform is tolerably safe and that such risks have been reduced to As Low as Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).

6.12 Military Use. There are numerous constraints on the Military use of UAS in the UK and Overseas which include, but are not limited to, the following:

· Use of Airspace and Safety. Probably the greatest constraint upon the operation of military UAS within the UK is the lack of Sense-and-Avoid technology. WATCHKEEPER is being fitted with a system that will make it compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. All UAS that require ICAO approval should be fitted with similar systems in order to ensure that training flights and broader civilian applications are possible outside of Segregated Airspace (reserved for UAS flights). This may also become a consideration if operating platforms overseas with similar air operating standards, such as supporting humanitarian relief operations.

· Basing. In order to utilise UAS in the most efficient manner, they should be based as close as possible to the target area of interest allowing for the longest loiter time possible. In non-permissive environments this becomes extremely difficult. Larger platforms’ reliance upon an airfield potentially reduces their utility, and consideration must be given to basing within a permissive location, which may create additional burdens (force protection, Command & Control, logistics etc).

· Command Delay. When operating at distance via satellite relay, UAS suffer from a very slight command delay so that inputs into the controls from the ground station take a brief time to reach the aircraft. There are robust procedures to deal with it. The main challenge is for take off and landing, leading to the need for a VLOS pilot at the airfield.

· Weather. One of the greatest constraints to UAS is the effects of weather. This is the case for all aircraft, but can be particularly difficult for lighter airframes to manage and significantly constrains their flying hours in certain environments, such as areas that suffer from high cross winds, icing or lightning strikes.

· Electromagnetic Environment (EME). The use of UAS is entirely dependent upon data feeds. They also require access to frequencies and spectrum to operate.

7. Ethical and Legal issues arising from the Use of RPAS.

7.1 The UK operates UAS in Afghanistan under the authority of UN Security Council resolutions. The governance and accountability arrangements in place for UK operated UAS are the same as those for manned aircraft.

7.2 Legal Issues The UK complies fully with all of its obligations under international humanitarian law irrespective of the weapons systems used. This includes those set out in Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions to review all new weapons, means and methods of warfare to determine whether the employment would in some or all circumstances be prohibited by the Protocol or any other rule of international law. That process applies to UAS just as to manned capabilities. The UK is also a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which controls the proliferation of unmanned delivery systems. The weaponisation of REAPER was reviewed under this basis in accordance with all relevant domestic and international law before its introduction into service.

7.3 UK forces operate UAS at all times in accordance with international humanitarian law (also referred to as the Law of Armed Conflict), following the principles of distinction, humanity, proportionality and military necessity, and this is reflected in the ROE. Both the ROE used for REAPER weapons systems and the legal issues associated with UAS are no different to those for manned aircraft.

7.4 The RAF has well-established command, control, supervisory, training and qualification frameworks for conducting air operations and makes full use of these structures to ensure REAPER are used in a legal and ethical manner. Crews receive training on a regular basis on domestic and international law concerning the use of force by UK forces in Afghanistan and the legal basis of UK involvement in supporting operations in Afghanistan. Training includes the understanding of, and compliance with, UK ROE. In addition, REAPER crews have access to legal advice and support during operations 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

7.5 Ethical Issues The MOD welcomes the debate surrounding the ethical and legal aspect of UAS.

· Strike. The majority of ethical and legal issues relating to UAS regard their use as a strike platform rather than in an ISR role (although this could become a consideration in terms of invasion of privacy issues). The same legal targeting implications apply to UAS as to any other weapon system. Therefore, we do not believe that UAS represent a separate ethical or legal category. MOD does not operate UAS with a strike capability outside of Afghanistan.

· Removal of a Man in the Loop. A common observation is that the removal of a pilot from the cockpit reduces situational awareness which combined with distance from the ‘action’ can lead to degradation in the ability to make appropriate judgement calls. However the use of UAS still requires a conscious decision to be made whether to prosecute a target, and often the situational awareness offered by numerous information feeds into a HQ is greater than that of a pilot operating in isolation, potentially facilitating wiser judgement calls to be made. Consequently, the operation of UAS should be seen as part of a system of systems which optimises decision-making by trained officers.

Is the use of Armed UAS Moral? The greater persistence afforded by REAPER can act as a deterrent to insurgent activity as well as affording the pilot a much wider attack window of opportunity should target engagement be necessary and proportionate. Because of this, and the greater loiter-time of REAPER (affording a detailed assessment of any target, and the ability to select the optimum time for an attack which minimizes the risk of civilian casualties or unnecessary damage to property), crews are able to exercise their judgement in a more measured way, free from the stresses of the combat zone or concerns about survivability. This minimises the risk of civilian casualties and increases confidence levels in target identification while at the same time reducing the risk to our own forces.

Some have argued that distance from the battlefield introduces an emotional and possibly moral disengagement. It is true that REAPER crews do not face the same level of direct danger as crews of conventional aircraft. However crews are commonly assigned to REAPER operations for several years and may fly missions in Afghanistan over extended periods, rather than on the short deployments associated with conventional crews. Experience of REAPER shows that aircrew are fully immersed in the reality of combat, possibly to an even greater extent than operators of conventional-aircraft. The persistence offered results in crews observing the aftermath of their attacks: a sobering experience rarely shared by other pilots or artillerymen. Furthermore, viewing the battlefield indirectly through sensors or targeting systems is far from new or unique to REAPER operators.

· Is the use of REAPER Fair? There are those who argue that use of REAPER is somehow unfair. But warfare is not a competition held on equal terms. There is nothing new about the lawful use of novel technology to achieve advantage in combat. We aim to maximise our war fighting capability and have a moral duty to protect the lives of our servicemen and women to the best of our ability. The use of UAS in a wide variety of roles, including for example C-IED route clearing, also contribute to our mission to protect civilians. Being able to provide persistent surveillance and attack capabilities from REAPER is part of our asymmetric advantage, and UAS are often important to mission success.

· Will The UK Allow Autonomous Release Of Weapons? No. Current UK policy is that the operation of weapon systems will always be under human control and that no planned offensive systems are to have the capability to prosecute targets without involving a human. By retaining highly-trained and qualified aircrew at the heart of the decision making process, the UK ensures that the legal requirements governing the use of force during armed conflicts are observed. There are no plans to replace military pilots with fully autonomous systems.

8 Conclusion

8.1 As this paper shows, UAS are subject to the same governance and supervision as manned platforms and will always have military personnel in control of them. The technology is here to stay, has clear military utility and is currently helping save the lives of British and coalition forces, as well as Afghan civilians, on a daily basis.

September 2013

Prepared 25th October 2013