As long ago as 2003, Ian Traynor reported in The privatisation of war’ that when the unmanned Predator drones, Global Hawks, and B-2 stealth bombers went into action, their weapons systems were operated and maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.
Information recently uncovered by Drone Wars researcher Peter Burt, contained in data sheets attached to the annual report of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) confirms that private contractors embedded with UK forces still operate armed British drones at the beginning and end of their mission.
At no point do the civilian pilots operate the weapons or surveillance equipment on the aircraft
Dominic Nicholls, defence and security correspondent, reports that an RAF spokesman said: “Fully trained and security cleared contractors are being used to launch and recover UK Reaper aircraft, however, it is highly trained Royal Air Force aircrew who continue to control the operational mission and weapons.”
Shortages of Royal Air Force personnel are relieved by contractors
Nicholls reported last year that a freedom of information request has shown that hundreds of fast jet and helicopter pilots across all three services have been ‘grounded’ for years waiting for courses. The crisis in the Military Flying Training System (MFTS) has been caused by MoD uncertainty over the total number of pilots required, compounded by outsourcing the training to Ascent, a partnership between Babcock International and Lockheed Martin.
According to the IPA report: “A contract for crews for the Reaper Launch and Recovery Element based at the deployed location (known as UK1) will take effect in June 2020. This will allow up to seven RAF crews (21 people) to be relieved from the forward deployed location and return to home units, boosting the numbers of crews available for mission control towards the 45 that will be needed for transition to Protector Drones”.
Cost and image: other reasons for employing mercenaries
Washington-based Defense One adds another reason for employing mercenaries produced by Government Executive Media Group, points out that it is far more cost-effective for a country to use private security contractors and social-media campaigns instead of deploying troops and risking the backlash that would come domestically and internationally.
These issues are explored more fully on a sister site in “ ‘Mercenaries Unleashed’? Hundreds of unregulated British companies operate around the globe”.