Drone Shortages, Training Bottlnecks Reported For Surveillance In Africa

Written by Dana Sanchez

From DefenseNews. Story by Pierre Tran.

Britain is exploring with France a joint training effort for pilots and procurement of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, reflecting an intense use of the surveillance drone in Africa and the Middle East, said British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.

The U.K. and France both operate the San Diego, California-based General Atomics Reaper. The British Royal Air Force flies armed versions of the drone against Islamic State insurgents in Iraq. France recently received a third Reaper.

The MQ-9 Reaper (formerly named Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight, developed primarily for the U.S. Air Force. The MQ-9 is referred to as a remotely piloted vehicle or aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the U.S. Air Force because it has human ground controllers. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer drone designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance, according to the U.S. Air Force.

“I specifically want to talk to Minister Le Drian today about Reaper UAV capacity,” Fallon told journalists here. “There is bottleneck on training drone pilots and we’re all short of drones.

“We have 10, they’re out on service at the moment, each one of them. We don’t have spare capacity to allocate anywhere else. Maybe there is much we could do there in common, either in the training or the procurement.”

The RAF had flown some 250 airstrikes against IS fighters in Iraq by May 27, a British official said. That was the second-highest number of airstrikes in Iraq after the U.S.

Tornado fighters take off morning and evening almost every day, intended to support the Iraqi army. The armed British Reapers fly as part of that intervention.

The possible Anglo-French cooperation could include training, personnel, logistics and support features.

Joint support for the Reaper was discussed among European Union defense ministers two weeks ago, Fallon said. The medium-altitude, long endurance drone is being flown in Niger, Chad, Libya and the Middle East.

….All pilot training for the Reaper is held at the U.S. Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, a U.K. Defence Ministry spokesman said.

Air Force pilots from Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. attended a Reapers users group meeting at the Ecole Militaire staff college in January.

Last year, the Italian Air Force said it was planning in-house training for its Predator and Reaper pilots, since U.S.-based training was not generating enough pilots to keep up with demand. Any training school set up in Italy could be open to pilots from other nations, Italian officials said at the time.

Italy already hosts foreign manned aircraft trainee pilots at its Lecce training school.

Read more at DefenseNews.

About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.