Remotely Piloted Air Systems - current and future UK use

Inquiry concluded.

This inquiry is the second of a series which have evolved from our inquiry Towards the next Defence and Security Review. These will cover a number of significant strands which the Committee believe would benefit from further Defence Committee consideration.

Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) are also often referred to colloquially as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) or "drones".

The UK’s RPAS capabilities are established and, potentially, expanding. Several systems, including the armed Reaper aircraft, have been used by UK forces in Afghanistan. Domestically, in recent months, test flights to prove the technology for civilian unmanned aircraft have been carried out by the ASTRAEA consortium. The aim of the programme is to enable the routine use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in all classes of airspace without the need for restrictive or specialised conditions of operation.

In this context, the Committee wishes to examine:

  • Nomenclature – defining the terms RPAS, UAS and "drone";
  • Current utility and dispersal – for what purposes are RPAS used currently?;
  • Lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan;
  • Tomorrow's potential - what additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?;
  • Constraints on the use of RPAS in the UK and overseas; and
  • Ethical and legal issues arising from the use of RPAS.

The Committee will make recommendations to inform the future development and use of RPAS by the UK in the context of the next Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Terms of Reference:

Concept of RPAs

Nomenclature – what do we mean when we talk about Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and associated terms?

Current utility and dispersal

For what purposes are RPAS used currently?

  • What RPAS capabilities do the UK military and intelligence communities currently possess or operate?
  • What governance and oversight arrangements are in place for the use of RPAS in the UK and overseas?
  • What lessons have been learnt from RPAS operations in Afghanistan, and elsewhere (including present and planned weapons), and how will this enable the future development of doctrine on their use?
  • How dependent is the UK RPAS programme on technology, training and operational support from the USA?

Tomorrow's potential

What additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?

  • What current and prospective partnership working on RPAS is the UK engaged in?
  • What governance and oversight arrangements are in place for such programmes?
  • What are the associated costs?


What constraints exist on the use of RPAS in the UK and overseas?

  • What air worthiness and certification requirements apply?
  • What restrictions apply to insertion into civil airspace?

Ethical and legal issues

What ethical and legal issues arise from the use of RPAS?

  • What governance and accountability arrangements are in place for UK operated RPAS?



  • Close


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