HC 772 Defence CommitteeWritten evidence from Drone Wars UK

1. This document complements our earlier submission which focused on the ethical and legal issues associated with the growing use of armed UAVs.1 In this short addition we want to respond to two further questions identified by the Committee in relation to this inquiry.


2. As the Committee suggests, there is some confusion around the naming of unmanned platforms. We tend to use the term “drone” as this has always been the term used to describe unmanned platforms and is readily understood by the public and the media. However this term is sometimes seen by those within the industry and the military as derogatory as, they argue, unmanned aircraft are much more sophisticated today than the original unmanned aircraft/drones which were mainly used for target practise. In order to respond to these sensibilities we tend to use the term “unmanned aerial vehicle” (UAV) when appropriate as an alternative to “drone”.

3. “Remotely Piloted Air Vehicle” or when referring to the whole system, “Remotely Piloted Air Systems”, are recent terms developed with the specific purpose of overcoming the negative conations associated with “drone” and to communicate the idea that such aircraft are not in fact “unmanned” (or “autonomous”) but controlled by crews on the ground. We believe however this term will be redundant in a relatively short space of time as UAVs will no longer be remotely controlled from the ground. Indeed the current generation of UAVs being developed and test flown (ie Mantis, Taranis and the US X-47b) are not piloted remotely from the ground but rather fly autonomously following pre-programmed mission.

Constraints on the use of RPAS in the UK and Overseas

4. As the Committee will no doubt be aware there is on-going work, most recently through the ASTRAEA programme, to lift the restrictions on larger UAVs flying within non-segregated airspace in the UK. Current use within the UK is rightly restricted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) due to safety concerns. As these restrictions are limiting training with larger military UAVs—the Watchkeeper programme in particular appearing to be affected—and with the drawdown of British forces from Afghanistan meaning UAVs may well be returning to the UK, we expect this to become more of a pressing issue.

5. Despite these pressures the Committee will recognise that the safety of the public must come first. UAVs are a long way from being able to fly safely in civil airspace. Drone Wars UK has documented for example more than 100 crashes involving the larger types of UAVS (type II and III) between 2007 and 2012 (see table overleaf).





Type of UAV




10 unnamed

8 Predators

1 Reaper

1 Gray Eagle

1 BAMS (Global Hawk)

1 Schiebel S-100

1 Searcher

1 Heron


8 Afghanistan

3 US

3 Pakistan

2 Israel

1 Lebanon

1 South Korea

1 India

1 Somalia

1 Djibouti

1 Sudan

1 Turkey

1 Not reported



12 Predators

3 Reapers

2 unnamed

1 Sentinel

2 Heron

1 Pterodactyl

1 Global Hawk

1 Shadow


1 Global Observer

9 Afghanistan

5 US

4 Djibouti

2 Turkey

1 Seychelles

1 Iran

1 Yemen

1 Pakistan

1 China



11 Predators

3 unnamed

1 Orbiter

1 Skylark

1 Reaper

1 A160T

1 Heron

7 US

7 Afghanistan

1 Palestine

1 Iraq

1 Canada

1 Pakistan

1 Italy



11 Predator

3 Reaper

2 unnamed

1 Hunter

1 Luna

1 Gnat

1 Sperwer

1 Hermes

13 Afghanistan

4 Iraq

1 UK

3 US



9 Predators

2 Sperwer

1 Reaper

1 unnamed

8 Iraq

5 Afghanistan



7 Predator

1 A160T

5 Iraq

1 Afghanistan

1 US

1 Not reported

Notes: CLASS I UAVs weight less than 150kg; CLASS II are between 150kg and 600kg and CLASS III weigh more than 600kg. In 2012 one crash involved two drones, hence although 25 UAVs are involved there are only 24 locations. A UAV crashed at Parc Aberporth, West Wales on 23 September 2009. Although not named, the UAV was believed to have been a Selex Falco rather than a Watchkeeper

Sources: USAF Accident Investigation Board (AIB) Reports, Wikileaks War Logs and reports from the general and military press

6. A number of Class II and III UAVs in service with British forces in Afghanistan have crashed including one Reaper UAV in April 2008, and eight Hermes 450s between 2007–12.2 In addition, according to figures released to the Guardian by the Ministry of Defence, around 435 British Class I UAVs have been lost in Afghanistan.3

7. We believe that the Committee should be extremely wary of suggestions that British forces will be able to regularly fly and train with larger UAVs within non-segregated and even within segregated British airspace within a few years. Without a dramatic improvement in the reliability and safety record of military UAVs it is highly unlikely that the CAA as regulators nor the British public would accept this.

8. The lack of opportunity to train with these system due to safety and public perception issues has obvious serious implications, not least of which is that they will not be able to be brought into service—as appears to be the case with Watchkeeper.

9. As stated previously, we would be pleased to brief the Committee in person on these issue if the opportunity arose.

September 2013

1 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmdfence/writev/1090/m04.htm

2 Hansard 24 Jan 2013 : Column 1MC

3 Nick Hopkins, Nearly 450 British military drones lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Guardian, 12.02.2013, www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/feb/12/450-british-military-drones-lost

Prepared 24th March 2014