RAF RPAS Ops

My understanding is that the 120 you allude to is closer to 140...
Yep, as I said, we can afford to only accept candidates with higher scores; the same is true of RPAS(P) with the current cut off sitting at considerably higher than 115 I believe. I also fully understand that OASC doesn’t just consider those scores.

...I don't doubt that people move to Reaper with QWI or other backgrounds; there are guys & girls who have completed CFS, QWI courses etc who are far from 'cutting & thrusting', to put it mildly. The current mindset amongst badged aircrew, from my experience anyways, is that an AO to the Reaper Force is a bit of a kick in the unmentionables...
I agree that not all QWIs and particularly QFIs are god’s gift to Air Power; equally, some that went RPAS were and are very good.

In terms of current postings, we fairly regularly have pilots, WSOs and WSOps request to go that way for a variety of reasons. Domestic, career and operational are all cited.

...I think we are talking at slightly crossed purposes. I sit in no denigration of the RPAS community and have respect for what they do. My point - and it's a purely personal PoV - is that 'equalising' what non-aircrew RPAS blokes & girls do, with the years of training that badged aircrew have to complete, just doesn't square - for me, at any rate. If that were the case, they'd be eligible for RRP (Flying), FRIs etc in line with their contemporaries.
Happy you’re not dissing the RPAS community.

Nor am I suggesting that an experienced RPAS(P) should be allowed to go straight from a Reaper cabin to a Shadow or RJ cockpit. My point is that -assuming no medical or supervisory concerns - there should be no reason why an RPAS(P) could not go directly to 45 Sqn for a MEXO and employment in a manned role. Indeed, I suspect that many would be a lower training risk than an abbo due to the experience they’ve already gained. I also have no doubt whatsoever that most would excel and it would be beneficial for the Service as a whole.

In terms of Recruitment and Retention Pay (Flying), the clue’s in the name. Right now, we don’t struggle to recruit RPAS(P). However, the civilian demand for experienced RPAS and UAS pilots is growing fast and we’re already seeing PVR rates increase and more take their options. Therefore, RRP(F) is already being considered for RPAS(P) and I suspect it’ll only be a matter of time before they get it.

Regards,
MM
 
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Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
One of the problems is the extreme level of ignorance (again, I do not say this pejoratively or suggest you fall into this category) regarding the harsh realities of serving on an RPAS sqn. As you imply elsewhere, RPAS flying is ‘different but the same.’ Your suggestion that former manned aircrew say one thing in private but another in public is different to my own experience with them.
Geniune question, could you explain to those of us with no experience of flying RPAS what these harsh realities are ?

Unfortunately, a huge amount of people still genuinely believe RPAS crews are somehow mentally detached from the battlefield, subscribe to the ‘computer game’ theory, or that ‘they’re living at home so can suck anything up.’ That’s resulting in more and more pressure on the RPAS crews which means that the demands placed on them and their families are fast becoming unsustainable.
To an extent all aircrews are mentally detatched from the battlefield due to the fact that they're physically detatched from it.
They don't tend to have the heat,* dust,* limited vision and close & personal incoming to cloud their judgement.

Then there's the limited TOT that most air assets have due to their very nature, and lastly - possibly most importantly for RPAS - if everything goes tits up and someone takes their airframe out, the worst they can expect is to fill in an online form explaining the loss of the asset.
A far cry from what might befall the crew of a manned A/C belting in under silk, or any bod on the ground. (Which is what the grow-bag clad gods of the sky would rapidly become.)

This is one half of the argument in favour of allowing RPAS(P) to cross-over onto manned flying for both career diversification and - probably most importantly - some respite from the nature of their ops. The other aspect is that by allowing such cross-fertilisation, we increase our flexibility to address aircrew shortages.
I'd still like to know more about the stress the RPAS(P) are under, is it that there aren't enough bods to cover the taskings ?
I realise this is from the ignorant side.


* feel free to substitute mud, clay, cold, rain, snow, humidity, stinging/biting animals and plants, etc. depending on theatre, season, terrain, time and weather.
 
From speaking to mates of mine, both in 'cockpit' and command posts, I understand that RPAS ops do carry different challenges and stresses, some of which can be compared and others can't. However, all of these mates, to a man, will dutifully 'sing the Reaper song' in public; however, take them to the pub and throw 8 pints of Stella down their necks and they'll give, shall we say, an alternative view. We all get how important ISR is, and yes, the flexibility of being able to strike at short notice, etc etc etc, but on an RPAS unit you're not walking out onto an ASP, kicking the tyres of the steel beast that you've signed for, and horsing skywards at a rate of knots. For me, that's what flying is all about, and has been since I first strapped a 'red-&-white' to my arse in the early 90s.
I don't think anyone within the RPAS sphere would suggest that the experience of flying a drone fully compares to the experience of flying a manned platform - they'd know, of course, having spent 60 hours in a Tutor/Prefect. To quote the Hollywood film 'Good Kill,' "no one falls in love with flying at 1G". I'm sure they would be quick to tell you, though, that a lot of the 'stick and rudder' aspect of flying RPAS is not too far off the real thing, of course without the aforementioned personal adrenaline accompanied with being in the sky yourself - 20kts xwind on finals is a lot more pressurising when you too can feel the gusts.

But I'm also sure that they do operate with an intense amount of adrenaline rushing through them when they are supporting troops on the ground or carrying out a precise strike on an exceptionally hostile target.

Maybe I am an old-fashioned, arrogant w**ker, but I don't think so. I've never bought into the 'aircrew superiority' myth, everyone has talents in different ways and it takes a collective effort to get the aircraft into the sky. However, much as I respect those talents differing as they may, it's an inescapable fact of military life that the tri-Service flying training system, amongst other systems - AACC/P Coy, Perisher etc - filters people out to less demanding roles, where they can (and indeed do) go on and do very well. The RPAS sphere is one of them.
When deciding whether or not to strike a target, in which there may be clear and unavoidable collateral damage, but having to pull the trigger because someone in a suit told you to, I'm sure is vastly challenging. What makes this different from a FJ strike is that they're then going to do a BDA in 4k resolution in which they will have to piece the bodies together in order to provide a body count. This having watched the target, finding out their habits, family routine etc for 6 hours, 48 hours, longer. Yes, they are not personally going to be physically over the target and so their life is relatively safe, but they're going to have to live with that image in their head whereas a FJ pilot is unlikely to see the damage they have caused, never mind the bodies left behind, in such clarity.

To me, that is perhaps not less demanding, but demanding in a completely different sense. I must also iterate that this is more a point of debate than a pejorative contest.


I could be wrong, though, having never flown a FJ. But, have spoken to plenty that have.
 
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Just some input on what the RPAS guys are going through.

They have been deployed on operations, 6 days on, 3 days off, since the Fleet was created. Some guys are now in their 7th year of 6/3 tempo operations. That, if nothing else, is taking its toll.
Given they are deployed on their main base, they are not supported as if they are deployed: from the huge things to the little things. The huge things include a failure to understand what they are doing, as well as medallic recognition, but also things like the messes and dinner halls not being open when the guys are going to/coming from being on a mission. The small things are rubbish 'banter' about 'playing computer games all day' etc etc. Perhaps the single biggest thing that should be considered is that they can do a mission where they kill someone (and their optics mean they'll see it far better than nearly any Infanteer or Pilot), stay around to watch the bits being scraped up into a wheelbarrow and carted off, and then 30 minutes later are doing the school run to pick up a 5 year old who knows not to ask what Daddy has done at work today.

Equally, RPAS guys can be in, through Cranwell, and combat ready on the front line in less time than it takes an Army OC to complete RMAS. That ground rush doesn't allow for adjustment or a gradual comprehension about what they are about to do - they are in it from the off.

And as for comments about how they have limited time on top - these guys are developing targets for weeks, with 8 hours on top a target a time. They know which way he/she goes to work, which routes they follow, how their lives unfold - they have far more ToT then you'd understand.

I genuinely think that most the RAF, not to say the rest of Defence, actually understand what RPAS are doing, and how it is genuinely morally and intellectually demanding. They certainly have my utmost respect.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
Not having messing arrangements suited to their compulsory work pattern sounds like bad leadership.
 
Perhaps the single biggest thing that should be considered is that they can do a mission where they kill someone (and their optics mean they'll see it far better than nearly any Infanteer or Pilot), stay around to watch the bits being scraped up into a wheelbarrow.
I have the utmost respect for the operators having worked with them significantly on Operations

I think this ‘they can see it better’ is a very silly comment though and feeds this competitive idea - which is partly why they don’t get the respect the deserve.

Having been at both ends - witnessing deliberate targeted strikes via RPAS and being part of the chain there, and being involved in incidents on the ground which involved me having to clean bodily fluids and body matter off me and my kit and equipment - I can tell you that one is incredibly visceral and one just isn’t.

Don’t try to make it a competition between the guys in the sky and the guys on the ground - it doesn’t have to be that at all.
 
I have the utmost respect for the operators having worked with them significantly on Operations

I think this ‘they can see it better’ is a very silly comment though and feeds this competitive idea - which is partly why they don’t get the respect the deserve.

Having been at both ends - witnessing deliberate targeted strikes via RPAS and being part of the chain there, and being involved in incidents on the ground which involved me having to clean bodily fluids and body matter off me and my kit and equipment - I can tell you that one is incredibly visceral and one just isn’t.

Don’t try to make it a competition between the guys in the sky and the guys on the ground - it doesn’t have to be that at all.
I have no intention of doing so, but the equal and opposite opinion of "it's just a big video game" is pernicious (not least in parts of the RAF).
 
Geniune question, could you explain to those of us with no experience of flying RPAS what these harsh realities are ?...I'd still like to know more about the stress the RPAS(P) are under, is it that there aren't enough bods to cover the taskings ?...
I think that @alfred_the_great has put it admirably.

I would only add that much of the visceral scenes they see are not the results of their own actions. Seeing women raped and stoned to death, children burnt alive, and people slowly lowered into battery acid is not easy.

Similarly, due to the stalwart efforts of the anti-drone lobbyists, RPAS personnel have become totemic target for extremists; let’s not pretend that there’s no threat to them.

...To an extent all aircrews are mentally detatched from the battlefield due to the fact that they're physically detatched from it.
They don't tend to have the heat,* dust,* limited vision and close & personal incoming to cloud their judgement.

Then there's the limited TOT that most air assets have due to their very nature...
I'd agree to an extent that aircrews are physically if not mentally detached; as @widow11 states, when an aircraft destroys another aircraft, an APC or a bunker complex, the aircrew don't see, smell and hear the results of their actions on their victims.

However, I suspect many helicopter crews would disagree that they're not subject to heat and dust while all aircrew are potentially subject to 'close and personal incoming' which clouds their judgement; this is a famous example of a formation of USAF F-16s over Baghdad during GW1 and there's very similar video from RAF Tornados during the infamous ALLIED FORCE 'Obrva Raid'. I think you'll agree that the aircrew involved feel mentally connected!

Interestingly (well I thought it was anyway!), the ‘flow’ of brief-auth-step-fly’ on XIII Sqn is specifically designed to make crews mentally ‘step’ into theatre. Few visitors who’ve experienced it are in any doubt that the GCS is ‘in theatre’ every bit as much as a Typhoon or GR4 cockpit.

...possibly most importantly for RPAS - if everything goes tits up and someone takes their airframe out, the worst they can expect is to fill in an online form explaining the loss of the asset...
And that is one of the benefits of RPAS, as is the fact that many aircrew are the most experienced around with years ‘in theatre.’ That allows them to sometimes identify subtle pattern of life cues that would be otherwise missed by manned assets, even at the end of a 6 month det. I can think of at least one Afghan farmer who will never know that his life was saved by a diligent RAF Reaper crew who pointed out to a ‘fangs out’ USAF F-16 pilot that said agricultural worker regularly dug a hole to take a dump at the same time every day, and that he wasn’t an IED emplacer justifying a ‘warhead on the forehead.’

...When deciding whether or not to strike a target, in which there may be clear and unavoidable collateral damage, but having to pull the trigger because someone in a suit told you to, I'm sure is vastly challenging...
Helen Mirren has a lot to answer for.

That is absolutely NOT how RPAS engagements work; at least not in the RAF. RoE, CDE and the overall authorisation process are identical to those of manned platforms. Similarly, it’s the captain (always the pilot on RPAS whether a ‘conventional’ or RPAS(P)) alone who makes the call, albeit with significant input from his Sensor Op and Mission Intelligence Coordinator.

Not having messing arrangements suited to their compulsory work pattern sounds like bad leadership.
Like the RN, the RAF has a shortage of chefs and cooks so therefore has to rely on ‘contract awarded to the lowest bidder’ PAYD catering contractors; these are rarely willing to provide food to order 24/7/365 including weekends without quite staggering premiums. We’re also now subject to the vagaries of the contractors interpretation of Health and Safety at work and Food Hygiene regulations.

For example, at RAF Waddington, the contractors closed down one of the kitchens until it was upgraded...for which there was no money. The result for the Reaper crews was cold food only for extended periods.

Ultimately, you can have best leadership in the World but if there’s no money and no staff, food quality - and morale - degrades. The same goes for such luxuries as hot water in blocks, heating and housing.

Regards,
MM
 
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Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
I think that @alfred_the_great has put it admirably.
Agreed, and an "informative" for his post doesn't quite do it justice.
Though I think there's been some misunderstanding about my use of time over/on tgt.

I would only add that much of the visceral scenes they see are not the results of their own actions. Seeing women raped and stoned to death, children burnt alive, and people slowly lowered into battery acid is not easy.
How regular are these occurrences ?

Similarly, due to the stalwart efforts of the anti-drone lobbyists, RPAS personnel have become totemic target for extremists; let’s not pretend that there’s no threat to them.
Time to remove the "I'm a drone operator" bumper stickers ?
But it's not that different for boots on the ground, Lee Rigsby is probably the most famous example, but there are many others where the outcome hasn't been as extreme.

I'd agree to an extent that aircrews are physically if not mentally detached; as @widow11 states, when an aircraft destroys another aircraft, an APC or a bunker complex, the aircrew don't see, smell and hear the results of their actions on their victims.
Exactly, and very different from the close engagements of many ground forces.

To an extent all aircrews are mentally detatched from the battlefield due to the fact that they're physically detatched from it.
They don't tend to have the heat,* dust,* limited vision and close & personal incoming to cloud their judgement.

...

* feel free to substitute mud, clay, cold, rain, snow, humidity, stinging/biting animals and plants, etc. depending on theatre, season, terrain, time and weather.
However, I suspect many helicopter crews would disagree that they're not subject to heat and dust
This was aimed at fixed wing, the closest equivalent I could think of to an armed drone.

while all aircrew are potentially subject to 'close and personal incoming' which clouds their judgement;
Hardly on Herrick.

this is a famous example of a formation of USAF F-16s over Baghdad during GW1 and there's very similar video from RAF Tornados during the infamous ALLIED FORCE 'Obrva Raid'. I think you'll agree that the aircrew involved feel mentally connected!
Both of these are well over twenty-five years ago, and while I agree that being targetted is a great thing to concentrate the mind, it's hardly been the norm for most sorties flown over the last decade.

possibly most importantly for RPAS - if everything goes tits up and someone takes their airframe out, the worst they can expect is to fill in an online form explaining the loss of the asset.
And that is one of the benefits of RPAS, as is the fact that many aircrew are the most experienced around with years ‘in theatre.’
Again it's not really comparable to being engaged where life or limb is at stake.

When deciding whether or not to strike a target, in which there may be clear and unavoidable collateral damage, but having to pull the trigger because someone in a suit told you to, I'm sure is vastly challenging...
Helen Mirren has a lot to answer for.

That is absolutely NOT how RPAS engagements work; at least not in the RAF. RoE, CDE and the overall authorisation process are identical to those of manned platforms. Similarly, it’s the captain (always the pilot on RPAS whether a ‘conventional’ or RPAS(P)) alone who makes the call, albeit with significant input from his Sensor Op and Mission Intelligence Coordinator.
Remember a briefing on the 91 unpleasantness where allegedly the first hit of the op was a blue-on-blue ordered by higher command in spite of great misgivings by the AH crew.

Like the RN, the RAF has a shortage of chefs and cooks so therefore has to rely on ‘contract awarded to the lowest bidder’ PAYD catering contractors; these are rarely willing to provide food to order 24/7/365 including weekends without quite staggering premiums. We’re also now subject to the vagaries of the contractors interpretation of Health and Safety at work and Food Hygiene regulations.

For example, at RAF Waddington, the contractors closed down one of the kitchens until it was upgraded...for which there was no money. The result for the Reaper crews was cold food only for extended periods.

Ultimately, you can have best leadership in the World but if there’s no money and no staff, food quality - and morale - degrades. The same goes for such luxuries as hot water in blocks, heating and housing.
I think we can all agree that PAYD was an abysmal idea implemented on the back of a lie.
I'm also chuffed that certain units knew this to be the case and long ago implemented remedial action.
 
...How regular are these occurrences ?...
Very regular, particularly during SHADER.

That's one of the dichotomies of RPAS flying where crews may observe an HVI for weeks and months. They see an individual being a good husband/wife and father/mother, playing with and showing affection to his/her young children. Then they will watch the same individual kiss their family goodbye and track them to where they commit acts of unspeakable cruelty.

That can be quite corrosive on the soul, particularly when the scenario means you're unable to do anything about it.

...Time to remove the "I'm a drone operator" bumper stickers ?
But it's not that different for boots on the ground, Lee Rigsby is probably the most famous example, but there are many others where the outcome hasn't been as extreme...
Agreed. The point I was making that RPAS crews are not immune to threats as many suggest.

...Exactly, and very different from the close engagements of many ground forces...it's not really comparable to being engaged where life or limb is at stake...
I'm not really sure what point you're making. I don't think anyone is trying to compare like for like and each environment have their respective dangers and stressors.

...Both of these are well over twenty-five years ago, and while I agree that being targetted is a great thing to concentrate the mind, it's hardly been the norm for most sorties flown over the last decade...
Kosovo was 1999. Equally, it could be said that HERRICK/TELIC have not been representative of the air environment experienced in Gulf War 1, the Iraqi NFZs between 91-03, the Balkans from 91-99, during the invasion of Iraq in 03, and Libya during 2011. Meanwhile, the air threat over Syria remains ever-present.

As you say COIN sometimes sees a lowered threat to aircrew but so too is the threat of artillery barrages and air attack absent for ground troops. Swings and roundabouts.

...Remember a briefing on the 91 unpleasantness where allegedly the first hit of the op was a blue-on-blue ordered by higher command in spite of great misgivings by the AH crew...
I've never heard of that scenario although the first kinetic strike of DESERT STORM was indeed carried out by US AH. However, this was against Iraqi IADS deep in the country.

Then only analogy I could offer are those occasions where a JTAC 'buys the bomb' and orders a pilot to drop despite the latter's misgivings.

...I think we can all agree that PAYD was an abysmal idea implemented on the back of a lie.
I'm also chuffed that certain units knew this to be the case and long ago implemented remedial action.
The RAF conducts 'ops from home' far more than the other 2 services as evidenced from the 24/7/365 ops conducted at Waddington, Brize, Coningsby, Lossiemouth, Boulmer, Akrotiri, Gib, Troodos and several other locations. Numerous permutations have been examined but there is neither the money nor the personnel to meet the requirements of all stations.

Regards,
MM
 
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For those that are interested, the GA Sky Guardian RPAS (effectively the Protector prototype) is currently orbiting over Cardigan Bay prior to landing at Fairford for RIAT.

Reg should be N190TC.

Regards,
MM
 
Arrival of the Sky Guardian after it’s transatlantic crossing.
Regards,
MM
 
@Magic_Mushroom : Does it get a Goldstar for that?

[For those who understand, I'll get me coat; for those thinking 'Eh?' it's because 31 Squadron will be the first Protector squadron]
Very good. However, notwithstanding 31’s longevity and period of unbroken service, I’m disappointed the RPAS mantle couldn’t be maintained by XIII and 39.

Regards,
MM
 
Are they not to re-equip in due course? That was the last suggestion I heard from a senior officer (who, it must be said, hasn't quite got his head round the notion of anything not employing one of Sir Frank Whittle's natty inventions being a proper aeroplane/not in the BBMF)... Something like a new squadron (which we now know to be 31) first, and the rest of the airframes to be placed between XIII and 39 in due course, if I recall.
 
Are they not to re-equip in due course? That was the last suggestion I heard from a senior officer (who, it must be said, hasn't quite got his head round the notion of anything not employing one of Sir Frank Whittle's natty inventions being a proper aeroplane/not in the BBMF)... Something like a new squadron (which we now know to be 31) first, and the rest of the airframes to be placed between XIII and 39 in due course, if I recall.
That would be nice although even if we get 20, I’m not sure there’ll be enough for 3 sqns. Equally, we’ll probably need an OCU idc so hope springs eternal.

Regards,
MM
 
Arrival of the Sky Guardian after it’s transatlantic crossing.
Regards,
MM
Very nice. And all seemingly quite routine and low key (which makes it all the more impressive to an old fart like me).

Where would the crew flying it be? This side of the pond or t'other?

I only ask as I'm thinking of what, in another life, I would call network latency and its effects at distance on flying these things. Radio waves propagate at 300,000 kilometres a second, so even using a geostationary satellite wouldn't introduce much delay, but I know nothing of encrypted signals and the compute time needed to interpret them at the receiving end.

It's clearly not a problem, so I guess its still a subsecond delay between something happening, the crew seeing it and an appropriate response being sent back and the device acting on it.


edit to add. On second thoughts, that's probably not the sort of thing that should be discussed, so please ignore the above.
 
Very nice. And all seemingly quite routine and low key (which makes it all the more impressive to an old fart like me).

Where would the crew flying it be? This side of the pond or t'other?

I only ask as I'm thinking of what, in another life, I would call network latency and its effects at distance on flying these things. Radio waves propagate at 300,000 kilometres a second, so even using a geostationary satellite wouldn't introduce much delay, but I know nothing of encrypted signals and the compute time needed to interpret them at the receiving end.

It's clearly not a problem, so I guess its still a subsecond delay between something happening, the crew seeing it and an appropriate response being sent back and the device acting on it.


edit to add. On second thoughts, that's probably not the sort of thing that should be discussed, so please ignore the above.
The laws of physics are not classified so I can confirm that there is a small amount of latency.

It's open source that this is why Reaper has a Launch and Control Element (LRE) at it's deployed operating locations. The LRE is manned by Reaper pilots and SOs for pre-flight, taxi and launch using a line of sight data link which has no latency. After launch and initial checks, the aircraft is handed over to the Mission Control Elements (MCE) in the UK and US for the SATCOM controlled mission before hand back to the LRE for recovery at the end of the sortie. The LRE LoS link ensures the aircraft can respond to things like gusts of wind during departure and final approach where latency would otherwise result in loss of control.

Protector will have an Automatic Take-Off and Landing System (ATOLS) when in service which will negate the need for an LRE and potentially allow operations from a far wider variety of airfields.

This particular sortie was controlled during its transit from the US.

Regards,
MM
 
The laws of physics are not classified so I can confirm that there is a small amount of latency.

It's open source that this is why Reaper has a Launch and Control Element (LRE) at it's deployed operating locations. The LRE is manned by Reaper pilots and SOs for pre-flight, taxi and launch using a line of sight data link which has no latency. After launch and initial checks, the aircraft is handed over to the Mission Control Elements (MCE) in the UK and US for the SATCOM controlled mission before hand back to the LRE for recovery at the end of the sortie. The LRE LoS link ensures the aircraft can respond to things like gusts of wind during departure and final approach where latency would otherwise result in loss of control.

Protector will have an Automatic Take-Off and Landing System (ATOLS) when in service which will negate the need for an LRE and potentially allow operations from a far wider variety of airfields.

This particular sortie was controlled during its transit from the US.

Regards,
MM

Thanks for that; very interesting.

Saw this too on the Transatlantic flight....

 
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