RAF Reaper drone squadron stood up at RAF Waddington

Reaper unmanned aircraft The MoD announced last year that it intended to double the number of armed RAF drones

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The creation of the RAF's first squadron of armed drone aircraft to be operated remotely from the UK will be officially marked on Friday.

RAF personnel currently fly five UK Reaper aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base, in Nevada, US.

The five new drones will be operated from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.

Campaigners protested at the base to highlight the dangers to civilians. The RAF said drones were mainly used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The 10 Reaper aircraft are all based in Afghanistan, to support UK and coalition forces.

Reapers carry 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles for strikes on insurgents.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) expects the new drones to start flying before the end of this year.

A spokesperson said: "Reaper is the only remotely piloted aircraft that is armed.

'Vital intelligence'

"On the rare occasions that weapons are used, the same strict rules are followed that govern the use of weapons on manned aircraft.

"The vast majority of unmanned aircraft flying is surveillance and reconnaissance in support of our front-line troops, providing them with vital intelligence and helping to save lives in Afghanistan.

"Since 2006 they have provided over 100,000 hours of persistent intelligence."

The MoD announced in May last year that it intended to double the number of armed RAF drones operating in Afghanistan.

The RAF currently has no drone aircraft - armed or unarmed - piloted from the UK.

More to relocate

The Lincolnshire-operated squadron will be known as the 13 Squadron, which was previously a squadron of Tornado aircraft.

A ceremonial event is being held at RAF Waddington on Friday to mark the "standing up" of the squadron, which is the point when it officially exists.

There will be about 100 personnel in the squadron, including pilots, systems operators, mission commanders, engineers, admin staff and logistics staff.

Although the personnel will be permanently based at RAF Waddington, some will go to Afghanistan to control the take-off and landing of the drones locally.

The five Reapers operated from Nevada are known as the 39 Squadron, and there are long-term plans for this squadron to relocate to Lincolnshire.

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