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Coalition of the Willing is taking its anti-terror war to the air

THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – At such a time when ISIS has reportedly gained access to Syrian warplanes, IHS Jane has confirmed that intelligence sources have notified its organization that the “United Kingdom is to deploy an undisclosed number of General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Iraq as part of its ongoing efforts to combat IS.”
The turboprop aircraft will be transferred from their current theatre in southern Afghanistan to a base of operations closer to Iraq in the coming weeks, the government announced on 16 October.
“As the UK’s only armed remotely piloted aircraft, Reaper will add to the strike capability we are already providing,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a written statement to parliament, adding that their use would be limited to Iraq in accordance with the current rules of engagement.
While the statement made no specific reference to the Reaper’s planned role, the UAV is equipped with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) work, and it can be armed with either Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or Paveway laser-guided bombs.
The Reaper’s endurance of more than 24 hours and maximum operating altitude of 50,000 ft enable it to loiter high above the battlefield, building up pattern-of-life intelligence and striking either pre-planned targets, or targets of opportunity. The absence of danger to any crew members also makes it an attractive option for the UK government to deploy, especially for what might prove to be a protracted campaign to defeat Islamic State.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) did not disclose where these redeployed Reapers will be stationed, but they could be located alongside the eight Panavia Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, routing into Iraq via Turkish airspace rather than directly over Syria, or in an allied Middle East country. As with current operations in Afghanistan, the aircraft will be launched and recovered by personnel in theatre, with control of the mission itself switching to either 39 Squadron at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or 13 Squadron at RAF Waddington in the United Kingdom. Although the MoD has not disclosed the specifics of the Iraqi Reaper mission, RAF Waddington’s official Twitter feed has announced that 13 Squadron will control these aircraft.
The UK currently fields 10 Reaper UAVs and, while RAF crews have previously operated US Reapers over Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, this deployment marks the first time that UK-owned platforms have been flown outside of Afghanistan.
As well as the Tornados and the soon-to-arrive Reapers, UK aircraft currently engaged in operations over Iraq comprise a Voyager KC.3 tanker, an RC-135W Rivet Joint signals intelligence platform, and a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transport.
The UK has also been involved in training Kurdish forces, with the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment instructing Peshmerga fighters in the use of heavy machine guns gifted by the UK government last month.

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