Number 39 Squadron
Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) are growing in importance and the RAF formed 39 Sqn at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada two years ago to operate RAF Reaper aircraft alongside USAF squadrons. Reaper provides real-time video imagery to ground commanders, and has the capability to engage ground targets if required.
39 Squadron , which is commanded by Wg Cdr Thomas Burke, trains and operates alongside USAF counterparts as part of the Combined Joint Predator Task Force. Although 39 Squadron is an RAF squadron, the unit includes personnel from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the British Army.
The Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) was purchased as a Ministry of Defence urgent operational requirement to provide all-weather, persistent, Intelligence,Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The system consists of several Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), several Ground Control Stations (GCS), communication equipment/links, spares, personnel from all 3 services and contractor ground crew.
The Reaper's primary mission is to act as an ISR asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialist at all levels. The Reaper's complimentary mission is to provide armed support to forces on the ground and, if required, engage emerging targets in accordance with extant UK Rules of Engagement and the UK Targeting Directive. Reaper is armed with GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. The Rules of Engagement (ROE) used for Reaper weapon releases are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft;the weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, this may include deciding not to release a weapon. Reaper is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to employ weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew. The majority of the weapons employed from reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage. Regardless of the type of weapon system employed, a full collateral damage assessment is conducted before any weapon release; this is irrespective of whether that weapon is released by a manned or remotely piloted aircraft.
The Reaper baseline system has a robust sensor suite for targeting. Imagery is provided by an infrared (IR) sensor, a colour daylight electro-optical sensor and an image-intensified sensor. The laser rangefinder/designator provides the capability to precisely designate targets for laser-guided munitions.Reaper also has Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to provide an all weather capability.Reaper can also provide geographic location information to commanders on the ground or to other systems capable of employing Global Positioning System (GPS) guided weapons. The aircraft is also equipped with both a colour and and IR nose camera, generally used by the pilot to assist in flight control.
Each Reaper aircraft can be disassembled into main components and loaded into a container for air deployment worldwide.
The Reaper RPAS is operated by number 39 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The aircraft is operated by a pilot and a sensor operator, supported by a mission intelligence co-ordinator. In support of current operations the Reaper RPA is launched from an airfield within Afghanistan by crews deployed in theatre. Once airborne the mission is flown by the crews of 39 Squadron from Creech Air Force Base in the USA, before control is handed back to the crew in theatre for landing. The pilots of UK Reaper have all been previously qualified as pilots on other military aircraft.