| LONDON, March 25
LONDON, March 25 Unmanned aircraft are a key
military resource that Britain must continue to fund after it
withdraws from Afghanistan later this year, a committee of
British lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Britain's development of remotely piloted air systems,
usually called drones, over the past decade helped to make
military operations effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, the
Defence Committee said.
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support
they gave troops on the ground had "undoubtedly" saved lives and
prevented casualties, said the committee, which scrutinises
government defence policy and expenditure.
"With the final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan now
rapidly approaching, Ministry of Defence thinking must turn to
the future for the UK's existing remotely piloted air systems.
We consider it to be a key capability which must continue to be
supported," the committee said in a report published on Tuesday.
Unmanned air systems have so far been funded as urgent
operational requirements and have not been budgeted for in
long-term planned equipment spending, it said.
Britain is due to hold its next strategic defence and
security review (SDSR) in 2015, the year of a national election.
"We expect future development, in partnership with allies,
to form an important strand of the SDSR 2015 equipment
programme," said the committee, which includes lawmakers from
both from the governing Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as
well as the opposition Labour party.
Britain and France agreed in 2012 to work together on
unmanned aircraft. They announced plans for a 120 million-pound
($197.9 million) two-year study of the technology
EU leaders also pledged in December to begin projects for
developing a European drone between 2020 and 2025, although a
British Defence Ministry source at the time made it clear
Britain would not take part.
The committee said continuing a partnership with the United
States Air Force after Afghanistan would give Britain access to
future upgrades to its Reaper drones, built by privately owned
U.S. firm General Atomics. It would also offer chances for
training that British airspace restrictions would make harder to
carry out in the UK.
It also said other European NATO nations, including France
and Italy, were also operating Reaper drones, so it might be
helpful to form greater collaborations at a European level.
The committee noted the controversy around using drones in
counter-terrorism operations. Last year saw the United States
accused of breaking international law by killing civilians in
drone strikes aimed at militants in Pakistan and Yemen.
"It is of vital importance that a clear distinction be drawn
between the actions of UK Armed Forces operating remotely
piloted air systems in Afghanistan and those of other States
elsewhere," the committee said.
"On the basis of the evidence we have received we are
satisfied that the UK remotely piloted air system operations
comply fully with international law."
($1 = 0.6063 British Pounds)
(Editing by Larry King)