The Government welcomes the House of Commons Defence
Committee's inquiry 'Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systemscurrent
and future UK use' and the findings set out in the Committee's
report (HC 772), published on 25 March 2014.
Our formal response to its recommendations and conclusions
is set out below. The Committee's headings and findings are highlighted
in bold, with the Government's response set out in plain text.
For ease of reference, paragraph numbering in brackets refers
to the order in which they are presented in the Committee's Report.
Nomenclature, Automation and Autonomy
1. It is acknowledged by several contributors
to the inquiry that the terms remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)
and remotely piloted air(craft) system (RPAS) are not yet widely
adopted. Nonetheless, we believe these are the most accurate terms
to use when referring to the armed MQ-9 Reaper operated by the
RAF in Afghanistan. These aircraft are flown remotely by a human
pilot who, along with a wider crew operating from a ground control
station, has general oversight and control. In relation to existing
unarmed systems used by the Army for intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance (ISR), it may be more appropriate to refer
to unmanned air systems (UAS). (Paragraph 20)
2. There is considerable potential for development
of future remotely piloted air systems which have a greater degree
of autonomy, however, the MoD has stated explicitly that remotely
piloted combat missions will always involve human operators and
pilots. We support this policy for all current and future UK armed
remotely piloted air system operations. (Paragraph 28)
The Government welcomes the Committee's recommendation.
Our preferred terminology is set out in the Ministry of Defence's
a. A Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) 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 nonlethal payload.
b. A Remotely Piloted Air(craft) System (RPAS)
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.
c. An Unmanned Aircraft (sometimes abbreviated
to UA) is defined as an aircraft that does not carry a human operator.
d. 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
While there is potential for development of future
RPAS which have a greater degree of autonomy, the UK views that
increasing automation, not autonomy, is required to improve capability.
3. The conclusion to Joint Doctrine Note 2/11
conceded that its relevance was "of the order of 18 months
and during that period much of its detail and many of the issues
raised will be overtaken by events". Now, some three years
later it is clear that further consideration of many of the issues
the Joint Doctrine Note raises is overdue. We recommend that the
MoD revisit these issues and publish an updated Joint Doctrine
Note setting out its current approach to remotely piloted aircraft
systems no later than September 2014. (Paragraph 38)
The Government acknowledges the Committee's observation.
The issues raised in the Joint Doctrine Note have already been
taken forward on a more formal doctrinal and conceptual basis.
They have been incorporated in the doctrine publication JDP 0-30,
UK Air and Space Doctrine and the recently published Global Strategic
Trends 5 (GST5). Work is also ongoing on the Future Operating
Environment 2035 programme (FOE35). We believe that these documents
capture the issues raised in the JDN.
The UK Air and Space Doctrine discusses the moral
and ethical issues associated with RPAS but places them more appropriately
within the wider context of the delivery of air power. This was
published in July 2013 and is in the public domain (copies are
being provided separately for the Committee).
GST5, published in June 2014, covers defence and
security implications of automated and unmanned systems touching
on economics, public perception, the role in combat and legal
and ethical agreements (copies are being provided separately for
the Committee). GST5 also provides the foundation for the Future
Operating Environment 2035 programme (FOE35). It will consider
the defence context of the future (encompassing allies and government
partners) and seek to provide conceptual capability insights.
Part of this work is examining issues with remote and automatic
systems across defence, which will encompass unmanned and remotely
operated functions; this work will conclude in the latter half
The requirement to produce an updated JDN2/11 is
removed by the completion of this work. JDN 2/11 is therefore
expected to be withdrawn once the Strategic Defence and Security
Review 2015 (SDSR 15) is complete.
4. It was very clear from the visit to XIII Squadron
and discussions with Reaper aircrew that all were experienced
professional personnel with a clear purpose and keen understanding
of the Rules of Engagement which govern their operations. Despite
being remote from the battle space they exhibited a strong sense
of connection to the life and death decisions they are sometimes
required to take. This was in stark contrast to the image portrayed
by some commentators of "drone" pilots as video gaming
"warrior geeks". We record here our appreciation for
the important role they continue to perform in Afghanistan. (Paragraph
The Government is particularly pleased to note the
committee's recognition of the highly skilled personnel who operate
this equipment. We can be rightly proud of the important and professional
role our Armed Forces personnel have performed and continue to
perform in Afghanistan.
combined Reaper fleet?
5. In light of these apparently inconsistent answers
by Ministers, we call upon the MoD to provide absolute clarity
about whether UK Reaper aircraft have ever been operated by US
personnel outside the launch and recovery phase. If public confidence
is to be built around the use of remotely piloted air systems
it is important that it is clear that UK aircraft have only been
utilised within Afghanistan and always in accordance with UK rules
of engagement. (Paragraph 62)
We can confirm that outside of the launch and recovery
phase only UK personnel have operated UK Reaper.
UK Reaper are only operated in support of International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ground forces in Afghanistan.
UK and US Reaper assigned to ISAF are tasked by the ISAF Joint
Command. ISAF Reaper missions are issued to a combined pool of
available aircraft from both the UK and US Reaper RPAS Squadrons.
The UK has, on occasions, used a USAF Reaper for UK-tasked missions
when UK Reaper RPAS were not available to them due to serviceability
issues. UK aircrew are subject to UK Rules of Engagement for all
weapons releases. The USAF has never requested use of a UK Reaper.
6. We consider it important that the MoD is as
transparent as it can be about remotely piloted air system operations
in order to build public confidence about their use and to debunk
myths and counter misinformation. We note that a review is conducted
and a report produced after every remotely piloted aircraft weapons
release. While the public do not need to know every time weapons
are released they do need to feel confident that rules of engagement
are applied and followed consistently. (Paragraph 66)
7. UK operations in Afghanistan have drawn heavily
on new and emerging remotely piloted air system technologies in
order to offer better protection to UK, ISAF and Afghan forces
on the ground. The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
capabilities of our forces have been enhanced immeasurably. More
controversial has been the use of the Reaper remotely piloted
air system platform to conduct strike operations using precision-guided
weapons. Following this inquiry, we are satisfied that RAF Reaper
pilots and flight crew have a high level of experience and appropriate
training to conduct such strikes. We are also satisfied that the
RAF rules of engagement for Reaper operations, as outlined to
us directly by senior RAF officers during this inquiry, are common
with those in force for manned aircraft, and provide a high level
of assurance that, as far as possible, civilian casualties will
be avoided and collateral damage minimised. (Paragraph 67)
The Government notes these recommendations. The House
Commons Defence Committee acknowledges in recommendation 4 the
high calibre of staff who operate the UK's Reaper fleet. This
is a result of the well-established command, control, supervisory,
training and qualification frameworks the RAF has in place for
conducting air operations. The RAF makes full use of these structures
to ensure RPAS are used in a legal and ethical manner. UK Reaper
crews receive regular training on domestic and international law
regarding 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
Rules of Engagement and International Humanitarian Law (sometimes
referred to as the Law of Armed Conflict. It is also of note that
UK Reaper crews have access to legal advice and support during
operations 24 hours a day, every day of the year should they require
it. The same strict Rules of Engagement which govern the use of
conventional military aircraft also apply to RPAS.
The UK complies fully with its obligations under
international law, including as set out in Article 36 of Additional
Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions, to review all new weapons,
means and methods of warfare. This process applies equally to
manned and unmanned systems. UK forces operate in accordance with
International Humanitarian Law, following the principles of humanity,
proportionality, military necessity and ensuring that only appropriate
military targets are selected. The UK's clearly defined Rules
of Engagement are formulated on this basis. The same strict Rules
of Engagement that govern the use of conventional military aircraft
also apply to RPAS and targets are always positively identified
as legitimate military objectives.
UK Reaper aircrew carry out a high level of consistent
training and have continuous access to legal representation. As
a result, the public can be confident that they always strictly
adhere to these Rules of Engagement.
on the use of remotely piloted air systems
8. There are many constraints on the use of remotely
piloted air systems in shared airspace whether in the UK or elsewhere.
In its response to this report we invite the MoD to set out in
detail what action the Government as a whole is taking domestically
and internationally to facilitate the development of the technologies,
systems and regulatory changes which will be required prior to
the full and safe integration of remotely piloted air systems
into shared airspace. (Paragraph 82)
The Department for Transport, which is responsible
for the policy in respect of civil/commercial RPAS, chairs a cross-Government
Working Group on RPAS. The objectives of the Working Group are:
RPAS-related Departmental policies and publish a UK Cross Government
vision / strategy for RPAS.
To identify Cross Government synergies
and opportunities for efficiencies.
To identify and address barriers to a
successful UK industry base, to support the Government's growth
The Working Group meets throughout the year and has
identified the following key issues as priorities to be addressed:
the extent to which the UK can support safe and secure RPAS operations
in the UK, including options for the certification of RPAS, pilot
licensing, and associated systems.
Identifying the key characteristics of
RPAS infrastructure, including the potential radio spectrum for
RPAS operations in the UK.
Seek to identify common cross-Government
user requirements to understand future concepts for shared assets
/ system procurement and maintenance.
Determining how the UK might best position
itself to take advantage of RPAS industry and technology.
Public perception, privacy, data protection
In addition, the Department for Transport is working
closely with both the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the ASTRAEA
consortium on addressing the regulatory issues that will allow
the safe integration of RPAS within the UK and European airspace
system. This involves working collaboratively with other Member
States within both a European (EC and European Aviation Safety
Agency (EASA)) and global International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO) framework to ensure that UK objectives are secured and
that sufficient progress is made on developing a proportionate
regulatory framework to allow the civil RPAS market to grow.
The UK industry will hope to capitalise on the successes it has
achieved through the ASTRAEA project once the current regulatory
barriers have been overcome.
While the potential for growth in RPAS activity is
well recognised, the need to cater for the 'absence/removal' of
the pilot from within the aircraft presents a number of very significant
challenges, particularly in the areas of airworthiness and collision
avoidance. These challenges limit the immediate expansion of
the market, but once they have been addressed, a marked increase
in the activity of larger sized unmanned aircraft is anticipated.
In accommodating this likely increase, the Department for Transport
is working with the CAA to ensure that RPAS operations are fully
and safely integrated with all other users of the aviation system.
RPAS should not be considered or treated as being
completely different however; they are still aircraft and, for
the foreseeable future, they will still be piloted, hence RPAS
should be viewed as an evolution of existing aviation. Clearly
though, there are many unique and potentially complex aspects
to be addressed, and these aspects will touch on virtually every
area of the CAA's activities at some point. The CAA is already
well engaged within European and International RPAS regulatory
working groups. In the future closer coordination between Government
departments will be key to ensuring that all aspects are focussed
on appropriately and addressed as efficiently as possible.
The Department for Transport is sponsoring three
strands of work with the CAA. These are:
for CAA Regulatory Development: Through the funding of the CAA's
international regulatory development activities, which will enable
the CAA to guide and influence at the right levels.
Support to Small/Medium Sized UAS Development
Organisations: Through the provision of an increased level of
initial advice and support.
Support to Strategic Projects: Through
the provision of a suitable level of support and regulatory oversight
of larger RPAS projects that stretch regulatory boundaries in
the UK and help resolve the issues with integrating UAS in UK
The European Commission (EC) has produced an RPAS
roadmap setting out the route to regulation for civil RPAS in
Europe. To that end, the EC has asked the National Aviation Authorities
group 'Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems' (JARUS)
to undertake rulemaking and guidance material development in addition
to that intended by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The CAA is an active participant within the JARUS group, and
is also closely involved with UAS related working groups within
EUROCAE (the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment),
which is a European industry body aimed at developing technical
On a wider scale, the UK are signatories to the Chicago
Convention and participate in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study
Group (UASSG) established by the International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) to act as the international focal point for
the development of the appropriate regulatory framework which
would allow the integration of RPAS into the aviation system.
In addition the Government and the UK CAA are in
discussion with several US Government Agencies, including the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) on developing harmonised rules
for the safe integration of RPAS into international airspace.
9. We call upon the MoD to set out which of the
existing remotely piloted and unmanned air systems it intends
to retain beyond the end of operations in Afghanistan and to confirm
that continuing operating costs can be funded from within its
core programme budget from financial year 2014-15 onwards. (Paragraph
The Ministry of Defence plans to retain the Reaper
for contingent purposes, principally for its ISR capabilities,
following the end of operations in Afghanistan. The Defence Board
recently gave approval for funding to allow the Reaper capability
to be maintained until SCAVENGER enters service towards the end
of the decade; plans for this bridging capability are currently
Of the existing UAS currently used on operations
in Afghanistan by the Army (Hermes 450, Desert Hawk 3, T-Hawk
and Black Hornet) it is our intention that the Desert Hawk 3 and
Black Hornet platforms are retained. This is yet to be confirmed
and is pending a final decision being taken by the Army Investment
Board which is expected in summer 2014.
The Government's memorandum set out our longer term
plans for UAS and RPAS.
10. In its response to this report the MoD should
set out how remotely piloted air systems, including Reaper, fit
within its overall ISTAR strategy. (Paragraph 97)
The Ministry of Defence is currently undertaking
an Air ISTAR Optimisation Study (AIOS) which is considering a
range of Air ISTAR force mixes set against future Defence requirements,
including the use of RPAS and options using RPAS along with manned
platforms. Due to the ability of RPAS to remain airborne for long
periods they contribute to delivering persistent surveillance
therefore their place in any future Air ISR force mix is likely
to endure long into the future. The details will be determined
by the output of the AIOS in the run up to the next SDSR.
11. Due to significant delays to the programme,
it is now unlikely that Watchkeeper will be utilised on operations
in Afghanistan, the theatre for which it was originally procured.
The MoD should set out in detail in its response to this report
the reasons for the delays experienced in bringing Watchkeeper
to full operating capability and the lessons identified for future
remotely piloted air system programmes. (Paragraph 102)
Watchkeeper was procured as an enduring capability
and not specifically for operations in Afghanistan. It will provide
UK Armed Forces with a 24 hour day/night all weather ISTAR capability
into the future.
Since the achievement of Watchkeeper's Release to
Service in February 2014 the Army has begun the final element
of its training for the system from Boscombe Down airfield in
Wiltshire. As of 11 July no decision had been taken on whether
to deploy Watchkeeper to Afghanistan in support of drawdown.
A number of factors have had an impact on achievement
of programme milestones. These can be broken into the following
Prime Contractor experience in the delivery of UAS programmes
Underestimation of scope of activity
required to comply with the new Airworthiness regulations and
in particular certification.
Technical Factors, including software
certification and electronic technical publications.
Shortfalls in Suitably Qualified and
Experienced Personnel (SQEP).
Changes to training requirements for
Coherence and communication across the
wider stakeholder community
A number of lessons have been identified. These lessons
have been applied within the Watchkeeper programme and also new
Core UAS Programmes (SCAVENGER, Future Combat Air System (FCAS))
and successful UOR programmes such as Maritime UAS (Scan Eagle).
The programme has also been subject to a Major Projects Authority
(MPA) review in early 2013 and again in early 2014. The MPA identified
a number of key areas where the Watchkeeper programme would benefit
from improvement and change. Both the MPA and the Programme's
own lessons can be summarised into a few key thematic areas:
programme now has a well established Senior Responsible Owner
(SRO) with greater coherence and communication established between
disparate Defence Lines of Development (DLODs). Benefits have
been realised immediately on the Watchkeeper programme with other
UAS programmes also taking action to ensure a cross-DLOD integrated
schedule is agreed between DLOD owners early in the programme.
Airworthiness Certification RequirementsAn
underestimation of the challenges of delivering sufficient quality
evidence to underpin the Watchkeeper System Safety Case led to
the delay to the achievement of the system Release to Service.
This lesson has informed the Scavenger and Future Combat Air
programmes where Airworthiness Certification has been highlighted
as one of the key risks to success driving appropriate levels
The number of SQEP was inadequate across
the stakeholder community for the Watchkeeper programme, most
notably in areas includingAirworthiness Certification,
training certification, software certification, Safety Management
and Capability integration. As future UAS programmes reach the
procurement phase, key resource requirements such as SQEP are
to be identified as part of the planning and assurance process
with the project commencing only when manning levels are sufficient
such that risk to the successful delivery is minimised as far
as is practicable.
12. It is of vital importance that the lessons
identified from the much delayed Watchkeeper system inform the
development and trials of all future remotely piloted aircraft
and any associated weapons systems by the MoD. In its response
to this report we call on the MoD to provide us with a more detailed
update on the Scavenger and Taranis programmes and explain how
they will contribute to future UK air combat and ISTAR capabilities.
SCAVENGER will replace UK Reaper RPAS towards the
end of this decade. The programme will develop a Medium Altitude
Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS, providing the UK Armed Forces with
a theatre-wide, persistent ISR capability, with the ability to
identify, monitor and if necessary attack land and maritime targets.
SCAVENGER is currently in the Assessment Phase during
which lessons from the Department's other related programmes,
including Watchkeeper, will be taken into account. A particular
issue that will be focused on during the Assessment Phase will
be certification for the air vehicles to fly in UK / European
airspace, not least so that it will be possible to train on the
system in the UK. The Main Gate Business case for SCAVENGER will
present the necessary evidence that SCAVENGER fulfils a number
of key user requirements in order to deliver a sovereign armed
RPAS capability for the UK.
The Taranis Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP)
aims to develop key technologies and systems to inform a future
operational Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) acquisition programme.
Two phases of Taranis flight trials were carried out in 2013-14,
a third phase is planned for 2015 in order to gain further understanding
of the radar cross section of the air vehicle during operation.
It is unlikely that Taranis itself will be developed directly
into an operational UCAV capability. It is primarily a technology
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme will
subsequently be responsible for the development of a UCAV capability.
A two year national FCAS programme has been launched which aims
to inform the forthcoming SDSR on the most appropriate force mix
of platforms and systems in order to meet the future combat air
requirement from 2030. A UCAV along the lines of Taranis is one
potential element of this force mix, along with an additional
buy of Lightning II, a Typhoon life extension or an alternative
new-build manned aircraft. This will allow a decision to be made
at the next SDSR about whether to commit to a UCAV development
Lessons from the Watchkeeper programme have been
applied to both the Taranis TDP and the national FCAS programme.
The need to develop an early understanding of airworthiness certification
requirements was a key lesson from the Watchkeeper programme.
A specific package of work has been included within the national
FCAS programme to address this challenge.
Any follow-on operational UCAV, which forms part
of the future combat air force mix, would contribute to the UK's
combat air and ISTAR capabilities. Key attributes of a UCAV would
include the ability to undertake long range missions and to provide
high levels of persistence and survivability in a contested environment
featuring advanced air and ground threat systems. These attributes
of range, persistence and survivability coupled with an advanced
suite of sensors and weapons should permit a UCAV to make a major
contribution to the provision of precise attack and ISTAR capabilities
for the UK.
13. We recognise the importance of sensor technology
for ISTAR capability whether deployed on manned or unmanned platforms.
We consider it vital that UK ISTAR assets are equipped with up
to date sensor suites which maximise their effectiveness. We call
upon the MoD to provide us with details of its planned investment
in future sensor technology and exploitation for remotely piloted
air systems and other ISTAR assets. (Paragraph 112)
The Ministry of Defence's work regarding future sensor
technology is centred on the Integrated Sensors Programme being
managed by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL). This
funded programme forms the hub into which all the Front Line Commands
feed, with the Department's Joint Forces Command acting as the
lead sponsor. There are a number of important capability requirements
that the programme is seeking to address, in particular:
collection of information through dense areas of natural foliage.
To deliver more detailed urban mapping.
The collection of more detailed data
related to sub-terrain construction.
Progress against these requirements is monitored
by the Commands and Capability areas with a view to ensuring benefit
can be gained as soon as a technical opportunity presents itself.
The programme works with wider Defence and industry in understanding
and developing future technologies and potential solutions, including
the need to address size, weight and power parameters that are
so important when considering sensor payloads for RPAS.
The Department also works directly with industry
in understanding the sensor packs that are integrated into potential
Military off the shelf solutions to our deep and persistent ISTAR
requirements. With SCAVENGER it is the current assumption that
existing technology will be fitted to the RPAS but options for
the employment of more advanced sensor technologies remain an
option on other future programmes.
14. We note the potential for deployment of new
and increasingly accurate weapons systems, including the Brimstone
missile, on UK armed remotely piloted aircraft. We call on the
MoD to provide us, in its response to our report, with a progress
report on current trials and future plans. (Paragraph 114)
To date there has been no decision to integrate new
weapons systems on UK armed RPAS. Such consideration will remain
part of the Ministry of Defence's normal capability and financial
planning processes. However, in order to investigate and demonstrate
the potential capability to employ UK weapons from UK armed RPAS,
the Department conducted a trial with support from MBDA and Big
Safari between December 2013 and January 2014.
The trial successfully met all objectives, including
RPAS carriage and release of Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone, and encompassed
a range of shots against both static and high-speed, manoeuvring
targets. Detailed analysis of the trial data remains ongoing and
will take some time to evaluate fully. Initial indications are
very positive and the possibility of a follow-on trial is under
This could be used to inform future discussion on
weapons integration for current and future UK armed RPAS and would
aim to build on broader Ministry of Defence sponsored trials experience,
including recent air-to-ground successes in engaging small, fast
15. As part of SDSR 2015, the MoD has a strategic
choice to make about the future direction for UK remotely piloted
air systems. Post-Afghanistan, a commitment to the existing partnership
arrangements with the USAF, including a continuing presence at
Creech Air Force Base, would provide the RAF with access to future
upgrades to the Reaper platform and training opportunities for
UK Reaper aircrew which would be likely to prove problematic in
the UK given the airspace restrictions which exist presently.
However, with other European NATO nations, including France, Italy
and the Netherlands now operating Reaper it may be advantageous
to form more collaborative arrangements at a European level in
order to share experience and seek economies of scale for the
delivery of training and maintenance. In the medium to long term,
projects such as Scavenger and the Future Combat Aircraft System
demonstration programme being developed with France may require
a shift in focus. We recommend that the MoD clarifies its intentions
and explains how European level co-operation can be co-ordinated
with existing bilateral partnership projects. (Paragraph 124)
The Government agrees that there can be significant
benefits to collaborative arrangements. The Ministry of Defence
will seek to work with other nations, where it is mutually advantageous
to do so, noting that the level of collaboration can be limited
by commercial and legal considerations and the national policies
and intentions of our partners (such as the US International Traffic
in Arms Regulations (ITAR)).
We are committed to collaborating with the US in
operating Reaper, and we gain significant benefit from this close
relationship. We are also committed to a two year bilateral UK/France
feasibility phase for FCAS, to help inform a decision in the Strategic
Defence and Security Review in 2015. This decision will set the
strategic focus for FCAS, drawing on outputs from both the UK/France
feasibility work and UK national programmes such as TARANIS, as
well as analysis of wider European collaborative opportunities.
When considering the procurement of new RPAS capability,
such as SCAVENGER, the Department will consider where working
with allies can help in delivering a cost-effective capability.
This collaboration may be taken forward through existing bilateral
relationships or through wider multinational cooperation. Where
equipment is already in service, arrangements are likely to develop
on an opportunity basis, taking into account the opportunities
and constraints pertinent at that point. In the case of Reaper,
as allies acquire the capability the Ministry of Defence will
work with them to share information and, if appropriate, facilities,
for our mutual benefit.
16. Remotely piloted air systems have extensive
potential for non-military uses in the UK and overseas. Projects
such as those developed by the ASTRAEA consortium have begun to
test the technologies and operating procedures required to make
the use of RPAS more commonplace and research into the potential
for other uses is continuing. We welcome Government support to
strengthen UK research and development programmes which have the
potential to expand the nascent civilian market for remotely piloted
air systems in the future. We call upon the Government to set
out in detail what joint working is currently ongoing across government
departments to consider the implications for the utilisation of
remotely piloted air systems in the civilian environment. In relation
to the issue of privacy, we recognise that existing laws which
protect personal privacy, including data protection and surveillance,
whether by the police, state intelligence agencies or private
companies, will need to be carefully reviewed and updated. (Paragraph
The Government addresses this recommendation in the
detailed response to Recommendation 8. We acknowledge the need
to carefully review and update laws, particularly around personal
privacy, as Unmanned or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems are
more commonly used.
and Legal issues
17. It is important in maintaining the public
acceptability of remotely piloted air systems that the perception
cannot be allowed to develop that their increased use has in some
way reduced the threshold for military intervention. We call on
the MoD to set out how it intends to address this potential problem
in its response to this report. (Paragraph 137)
The Government is aware of the perception that the
operation of RPAS may lead to a reduced threshold for military
intervention. The Government does not believe this is the case.
Military intervention remains an option of last resort and is
only considered when other means have failed. The laws governing
the recourse to the use of force are the same for RPAS as for
other military systems. The Ministry of Defence would only ever
contemplate military intervention where there was a proper legal
basis to do so, for example where a UN Security Council Resolution
permits or when justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter,
which confirms the inherent right of states to collective or individual
self-defence. The same strict Rules of Engagement that govern
the use of conventional military aircraft also apply to RPAS.
The Ministry of Defence plans to continue to emphasise
these points in its on-going campaign of public engagement (see
the response to recommendation 23).
18. We welcome the report of the UN Special Rapporteur
on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms while countering terrorism. We note that he has identified
a number of legal questions on which there is no clear international
consensus. We recommend that the UK Government engage actively
in the debate on these matters and report on progress in its response
to our report. (Paragraph 157)
The Government welcomes the UN Special Rapporteur's
report on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms while countering terrorism. This is important work that
highlights the cost of countering terrorism around the world;
and we continue to support the role of Special Rapporteur in reporting
on the human rights implications of counter-terrorism. The UK
has long held that counter-terrorism measures can only be effective
when they are consistent with an approach which upholds the rule
of law and we expect all States to ensure that the measures they
take to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international
The report identifies a number of interesting legal
questions. The UK believes that existing international law sufficiently
covers the use of RPAs. We are carefully considering the recommendation
of the Special Rapporteur.
19. We acknowledge that over the last few years
there has been a growing concern in relation to the sharing of
intelligence with allies and the uses to which such data may contribute.
While the issues raised by Reprieve stray beyond the terms of
reference for our inquiry and indeed the remit of the Defence
Committee, we do believe that there should be greater transparency
in relation to safeguards and limitations the UK Government has
in place for the sharing of intelligence. Matters concerning the
activities of the intelligence services are more appropriately
addressed by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament
(ISC). We invite the ISC to consider in future work programmes
the issues raised with us during this inquiry which fall within
its remit. (Paragraph 161)
The Government notes the Committee's views. All
activities of the UK intelligence community are subject to careful
oversight to ensure that they comply with obligations under national
and international law. As the Foreign Secretary informed Parliament
on 10 June last year: "Our agencies practise and uphold UK
law at all times, even when dealing with information from outside
the United Kingdom. The combination of a robust legal framework,
ministerial responsibility, scrutiny by the intelligence services
commissioners, and parliamentary accountability through the Intelligence
and Security Committee should give a high level of confidence
that the system works as intended."
20. The licensing of arms exports and other controlled
goods is a matter for the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC).
We will work with our colleagues on CAEC to ensure that this issue
is given appropriate scrutiny. (Paragraph 162)
The Government stands ready to support any such work,
within its responsibilities.
21. We consider that it is of vital importance
that a clear distinction be drawn between the actions of UK Armed
Forces operating remotely piloted air systems in Afghanistan and
those of other States elsewhere. On the basis of the evidence
we have received we are satisfied that UK remotely piloted air
system operations comply fully with international law. (Paragraph
22. We recommend that the MoD should continue
its public awareness programme surrounding remotely piloted air
system operations in order to aid public understanding and acceptance.
23. We note the conclusion of the UN Special Rapporteur
that in any case in which civilians have been, or appear to have
been, killed, there is an obligation on the State responsible
to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry
and to provide a detailed public explanation. We recognise that
this is not a simple and straightforward request as to do so could
seriously jeopardise continuing operations. Nonetheless, we recommend
that, to the extent that it is operationally secure to do so,
following an event which has resulted in confirmed civilian casualties
the MoD should seek to publish details about the incident and
any lessons learned from the review process. (Paragraph 165)
24. The rapid development of remotely piloted
air system capabilities by the UK Armed Forces over the past decade
has contributed greatly to the effectiveness of military operations
in Iraq and Afghanistan. The provision of enhanced intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance support to our troops on the ground
has undoubtedly saved lives and prevented casualties. With the
final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan now rapidly approaching,
MoD thinking must turn to the future for the UK's existing remotely
piloted air systems. We consider it to be a key capability which
must continue to be supported. We expect future development, in
partnership with allies, to form an important strand of the SDSR
2015 equipment programme. (Paragraph 166)
As stated above in response to the Committee's recommendations
6 and 7, the UK fully complies with its obligations under international
law. All of our attack systems, including RPAS, operate with clear
legal authority, such as UN Security Council Resolutions and UK
forces operate in accordance with International Humanitarian Law,
following the principles of humanity, proportionality, military
necessity and distinction.
As recognised in the Committee's Report (HC 772)
the Government has already gone to some lengths to raise public
awareness regarding the operation of RPAS. Last year we provided
the Committee with comprehensive and detailed evidence to support
this inquiry, evidence which can be found in the public domain.
The Ministry of Defence supported media events at
RAF Waddington in December and in January, which were attended
by the Defence Secretary and the Minister for the Armed Forces.
The aim of these events was to try and to dispel some of the myths
that surround the use of UAS and to raise awareness of how we
use this technology.
In February, the Department held a further media
event at MOD Boscombe Down. This was in order to inform the local
media and general public of the arrival of the Watchkeeper UAS;
interested parties were given the opportunity to gain an insight
into the system and were briefed about what would take place.
More recently, in March, the Minister for the Armed
Forces met with an All Party Parliamentary Group to once again
talk about the UK's use for RPAS/UAS In addition, a group of interested
Peers met with the Under Secretary of State to receive briefings
on the same subject.
The Department intends to continue communicating
with the public, the media and Parliamentarians on Unmanned or
Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems in the future, and promote a
better understanding of what we do and why we do it. This will
include information on operational activities where it is operationally
secure to do so
Following any incident in which a civilian has been
or appears to have been killed by UK Forces a full investigation
is undertaken, and if required, a special investigations team
is deployed to conduct a quick and thorough assessment of the
situation. The UK has its own processes for dealing with alleged
civilian casualties in Afghanistan and those thought to have been
caused by RPAS are treated no differently to, and just as seriously
as, any other events involving UK forces. We do not routinely
publish these reports for reasons of operational security.
Reaper and Watchkeeper are both in the core programme
and, on current plans, the former will be replaced from 2018 onwards
through the SCAVENGER programme. The rapid development of RPAS
makes them a viable option in an increasingly wide variety of
environments and roles. As a result, the Ministry of Defence expects
that RPAS will form a key part of the future force mix. In particular,
the Department is considering RPAS in the AIOS and as a part of
the FCAS programme. As noted in our response to Recommendation
15, collaborative approaches to development and acquisition of
these systems will be an important consideration.