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
  • Get to the point
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: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence