Britain has “50 or 60” armed drones according to the director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an armed forces think-tank with links to the British government.
Professor Michael Clarke said that the UK is believed to have around 500 drones in total, with 10 to 12 Reaper drones in Afghanistan. He said “that probably means it has got about 50 or 60 that are armed”.
The military analyst told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that drones “have struck in areas and in ways that are legally questionable, to say the least.
Asked about civilian casualties as a result of drones, Clarke said, “I don’t believe one should blame drone technology for the deaths of civilians where they happen, you should blame the way that they’re being used. Because at least on paper, drones are safer on civilians than manned aircraft. Where civilians are being killed in drone strikes, it is because the operators have either not got good enough intelligence, or they know that civilians are there and they take the risk in any case. And there’s no excuse for that.
“I don’t see how British intelligence can disentangle itself from the provision of intelligence that creates legally questionable drone strikes on the part of the United States.
“I think there is a head of steam behind this issue – it will I think come back to haunt the government.”
Despite the controversy around drones the British public do support their use. A poll by YouGov last month showed that 55 percent of the public agree with them, and the figure rises to 67 percent if it is clear that no civilians were killed by them.
It is widely believed that manned fighter planes will be phased out in the future because unmanned aircraft such as drones have a greater capability and are much less dangerous to operate.
The RAF (Royal Air Force) believes that by 2030 about a third of their systems will be unmanned aerial vehicles.