Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems - current and future UK use - Defence Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Background to the report

1. In December 2012, we announced our intention of contributing to the next Defence and Security Review by carrying out an overarching strategic inquiry to examine the purpose and future use of the Armed Forces. In March 2013, we launched an inquiry entitled 'Towards the next Defence and Security Review'. We published our preliminary framework Report in January 2014.[1]

2. Separately, in July 2013, we announced a new inquiry into current and future use of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) by the UK military and intelligence communities as part of a series which had evolved from our initial work on 'Towards the next Defence and Security Review'. Our intention was to make recommendations to inform the future development and use of these systems by the UK in the context of the next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

3. The UK's remotely piloted air system capabilities are established and there is significant potential for future expansion. Several systems, including the armed Reaper aircraft, have been used by UK forces in Afghanistan. Separately, the potential for non-military use of these systems is extensive.

Purpose of the inquiry

4. There has been an increasingly contentious debate in the media and amongst the public in the UK in recent years surrounding the development and use of Remotely Piloted Air Systems or "drones", principally about armed systems. We recognise that the introduction and increasing use of this new technology has given rise to public concerns, mainly due to a lack of information or clarity on their operation, function and potential present or future use. As part of our work to examine the purpose and future use of the UK's Armed Forces we therefore decided to undertake this case study on RPAS in order to inform the debate.

5. In this context, we decided to examine:

  • Nomenclature - defining the terms Remotely Piloted Air System, Unmanned Aircraft System and "drone"
  • Current utility and dispersal - for what purposes are Remotely Piloted Air Systems used currently?
  • Lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan
  • Tomorrow's potential - what additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?
  • Constraints on the use of Remotely Piloted Air Systems in the UK and overseas
  • Ethical and legal issues arising from the use of Remotely Piloted Air Systems

6. This inquiry has been led by a rapporteur, Madeleine Moon MP, appointed by the Committee to investigate the issues surrounding UK use of remotely piloted air systems and report to us. In response to a call for evidence issued in July 2013, we received 20 submissions. We are grateful to all those who submitted evidence.

7. As part of the inquiry, Madeleine Moon MP visited RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, the base for RAF Remotely Piloted Air System operations in the UK, and BAE Systems, Warton, Lancashire. We wish to thank all those who facilitated these useful visits. We are also grateful to our Specialist Advisers[2] and our staff.

8. The inquiry focused principally on current and future UK use of remotely piloted air systems. Except to differentiate UK activities from those of others, we have not sought to consider in detail the development or use of these systems by other countries.

1   Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2013-14, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review: Part One, HC 197. Back

2   The Committee's Specialist Advisers are: Mr Paul Beaver, Professor Mike Clarke, Chris Donnelly, Air Marshal (retired) Paul Colley, Dr John Louth, Major General (retired) Mungo Melvin, Rear Admiral (retired) Chris Snow, Air Marshal (retired) Philip Sturley. Their declarations of interests can be found in the Committee's Formal Minutes available on the Committee's website. Back

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Prepared 25 March 2014