Exclusive: £100m drones may not fly until Britain has left Afghanistan

 

Armed drones, bought at a cost of more than £100m to support troops in Afghanistan, are not operational nearly four years after they were ordered and only six months before British forces pull out of the country, an investigation has found.

The order for five armed Reaper drones was made as an urgent requirement and announced in 2010 by David Cameron and Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary at the time, during a trip to Afghanistan.

But nearly four years on the drones have still not taken to the skies and may not play any meaningful role in the Afghan campaign, research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.

The delay has meant that British armed forces have had to cope without what Mr Fox promised would be a “significant increase in air surveillance” that would help protect front-line troops from threats such as roadside bombs. 

European aviation rules also mean the drones cannot fly in UK airspace and are likely to be sent to America when British troops withdraw from Afghanistan in December. They could be used for surveillance operations in other countries – if a formal request is made.

Last night, Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which has been highly critical of MOD procurement in the past, said the revelation “beggars belief”.

“These aircraft were meant to be supporting soldiers on the front line and now we learn that they may play no active role in Afghanistan at all,” she said. “This appears to be another procurement shambles that has let down our troops. The question the MoD needs to explain is what they intend to do with these aircraft now.”

Vernon Coaker, the shadow Defence Secretary, said the delay was the latest in a long list of MoD blunders since Mr Cameron took power. “While armed forces families are facing a cost-of-living crisis, David Cameron squanders millions of taxpayer pounds on dud equipment that will never be used,” he said.

The Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee who represents the Essex army town of Colchester, said: “This is obviously of concern. The Ministry of Defence needs to explain why there are delays and what they are doing to remedy matters.”

Mr Cameron announced the plan to double the UK’s Reaper capacity in 2010, paying £135m for five aircraft and three ground control stations. 

But delivery of the aircraft from the manufacturer, the US defence company General Atomics, was delayed because of a demand for multiple additional Reapers from the US Air Force which took precedence.

The British Reapers were expected to be operational by 2013, but have suffered hardware and software setbacks.

The aircraft completed their testing phase in the US in February, and have now been delivered to Afghanistan. There, they are being rebuilt and tested and are expected to start flying missions in the “near future”, according to an MoD spokesman.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue