This note provides an introduction to the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by the UK Armed Forces, more commonly known as drones. These are remotely piloted aircraft that range from simple, hand-operated systems to high altitude, long endurance systems similar in operation to small aircraft.
UAVs are primarily used to gather intelligence and provide a surveillance and reconnaissance function for the armed forces. Only a handful of systems are capable of carrying weapons. The only armed UAV used by the UK Armed Forces is the Reaper and it is only used in Afghanistan. Remotely piloted aircraft operate on the same rules of engagement as manned aircraft. However the growth in the use of armed UAVs, particularly by the United States, raises a number of moral, ethical and legal issues.
This note explores the strengths and weaknesses of UAVs, the different types of UAVs in use by the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, rules of engagement and highlights some of the points raised by those concerned about their development and use.
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