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Inside The Secretive World Of The RAF's Reaper Drones

Dr Peter Lee has become the first civilian ever to witness the work of the RAF’s Reaper Squadrons.

WATCH Dr Peter Lee: "I knew that this person on the screen had roughly 30 seconds to live"

Dr Peter Lee, a former Chaplain in the RAF and now an academic at the University of Portsmouth, has become the first civilian ever to witness the work of the RAF’s Reaper Squadrons.

Created in 2007 and at war ever since, the Reaper Force remains one of the most guarded and secretive military communities in the world. 

For years, Dr Lee was granted special research access to RAF Reaper crews and their partners at Creech AFB in Nevada and RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

 Reaper MQ-9 Drone
A Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air System prepares for take-off (File Picture: MoD).

Now an international authority on the deployment of military drones, Dr Lee has published a book “Reaper force: inside Britain’s drone wars”, based on his extensive interviews. 

Speaking to Forces News, he described what it was like to witness a drone strike.

"Some people might think that because of the great physical distance there's also a great emotional distance - and that's the paradox of reaper, it's actually the exact opposite. 

"The distance is huge but the visual distance - the emotional, psychological distance - brings them back into the range roughly of a World War pilot, above the trenches, looking at other pilots at a 100 yards distance. 

Latest RAF air strike against so-called Islamic State in the Euphrates valley (Picture: MoD).

"Most of the time, if they're given someone to watch for several days or hours, they build up a pattern of life.

"They know everything about this person, where he goes, what he does, see his children, see his family, see him at the mosque, see him eating, see him playing football with the children, see him doing activities with other family members, see him planting bombs, conducting ambushes, whatever it is. 

"Then, the moment comes when they have to pull the trigger, when they're very involved in his life.

"They cannot kid themselves that this is just some blip on the screen. 

RAF Reaper UAV (MoD Handout)
RAF Reaper RPAS at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan (Picture: MoD).

"I was sitting next to the pilot and central operator, I had my notebook and I was listening to all the discussion.

"I was watching the screen, there were two ISIS fighters, Jihadists, on a motorbike and I could hear that a strike was being built up.

"I thought they're getting permission to kill these people.  

"As the situation developed, one got off the bike and then I watched as the pilot got his Nine Line authorisation, so all the different elements to a strike, got his legal approval. 

"It is deeply engaging, you could really see it very closely on the screen.

"I realise as he said 'rifle' and the missile is in the air, I knew that this person on the screen had roughly 30 seconds to live. 

"It's incredibly immersive and adrenaline-inducing, especially for those in control of the weapons.

"It's a deeply personal experience, deeply immersive, deeply involving emotionally and psychologically. 

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