One thing I have started to notice since I began to document the aerosol programme are the amount of small jets flying at very high altitude that do not show up as chartered flights on Flightradar24.com.
These are, without doubt, one of the many military UAV’s currently being deployed in the skies of the UK to spy on British citizens, such as the unmanned and appropriately named “Watchkeepr”. Here is a link to a story that the Guardian broke back in May.
The British military now has 500 drones and has been looking for ways to increase the amount of UK airspace in which to fly some of them, the Guardian can reveal.
The expansion of the fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is in line with the Ministry of Defence’s ambition for a third of the Royal Air Force to consist of remotely piloted aircraft by 2030. But the disclosure will dismay campaigners who have raised ethical and legal concerns over UAVs, which have been used extensively in Afghanistan, and by the CIA to target Taliban and al-Qaida leaders across the border in Pakistan.
There is currently only one British base where UAVs and normal aircraft can fly together in the same airspace – the privately owned West Wales Airport (WWA) in Aberporth. The MoD has been using the airfield to test the new Watchkeeper surveillance drone and is working with the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to “open up more airspace to remotely piloted systems”, the ministry said.
The military runs a number of UAV systems, from the Reaper, which can carry Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs, to the Black Hornet mini-helicopter, which can fit in the hand. Both have been used extensively in Afghanistan, as has the Hermes 450 surveillance drone which will be replaced by the new Watchkeeper; the army has bought 54 of the new aircraft, and the manufacturer Thales told the Guardian it had delivered 27 of them.
The MoD insists British UAVs operate within a robust framework and are subject to the same rules of engagement as fast jets and military surveillance planes.
The UK has five Reapers in Afghanistan, which have fired 350 missiles and laser-guided bombs. Five new Reapers will be in service in Afghanistan shortly, and some of the fleet’s operations will be run from the RAF’s new drones hub at Waddingon in Lincolnshire. Officials say the Reapers will become part of the military’s core equipment and that more are likely to be bought in the future.