Drone Wars UK, an NGO working towards the long-term goal of banning the use of armed drones, has published its analysis of two years' worth of Ministry of Defence (MoD) reports.
In the two years leading up to September 2019:
"Reaper drones launched two-thirds (67%) of the 110 strikes at ISIS* fighters in the open while other aircraft were used far more often to launch attacks on buildings, fighting positions, strong-points and other infrastructure. Half of all UK Reaper attacks (51%) were targeted at individuals on the ground compared to only 10% of Tornado and Typhoon strikes".
The reports' authors note that in total, "Reapers launched 29% of the UK’s strikes in this two-year period".
According to the Royal Air Force, "A three-person crew operates Reaper, working from a remote ground control station".
Drone Wars UK has categorised 499 air strikes on specific targets listed by the MoD into 20 categories including:
- armed truck;
- heavy weapons.
Further sata released after a Freedom of Information request shows two attacks by Reapers in July 2019 and two by Typhoons in August 2019, but, the authors' note, the targets of these attacks are unknown.
The report notes that:
"Reapers stay in the air far longer than other aircraft, meaning that they loiter in this one area, watching particular compounds or individuals and also looking for ‘targets of opportunity’".
On the other hand, normal bomber jets are much faster and fly over far greater distances during their missions.
While Drone Wars UK warns against making generalisations about how the UK military has or will use drones in other conflict areas, they do say that this information provides "important insight into the way armed drones are being used on a day-to-day basis".
They also say:
"In addition, given that armed drones are being used far more to target individuals on the ground that other aircraft, this could in part explain why drone crew are suffering mental health problems compared to other air crew".
Drone Wars says the UK has dropped or fired over 4,000 bombs in Iraq and Syria as part of what the UK refers to as its ant-Daesh campaigns.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic state) is a terrorist group banned in Russia