The U.K. is on track to fly more Reaper unmanned aircraft hours in Afghanistan this year than at any time before with 5,600 flight hours logged at half year – the 2010 full-year total was 10,300 hours.
Interestingly, though, the number of Hellfire missiles shot is on a downward trend. Last year saw RAF Reapers fire 73 weapons, but through July 4 only 30 were fired in Afghanistan this year. Last year was a peak, with 2009 seeing 46 weapons employed.
The flight hour number is likely to increase next year, as the U.K. brings in additional Reapers it is procuring. The goal is to provide more reconnaissance assets to help safeguard the draw down of forces. Flight hours for the type have been steadily increasing, from 300 hours in 2007 to 2,800 hours in 2,800 and 4,600 in 2009.
The upward trend is also taking place for Desert Hawk 3 unmanned aircraft. With the military on track to fly at least 5,000 flight hours this year, up from 4,300 the year prior and 2,800 and 1,800 flight hours in the two prior years.
Only the Hermes 450 is bucking the trend. It saw a huge jump in flight hours between 2007 and 2008, going from 1,700 to 7,300 hours. A further, albeit more modest increase came in 2009, when the number of hours flown reached 9,800 followed by 14,700 last year. However, through the mid-year point had logged only 6,300 hours, according to defense ministry data.