The operators of British Reapers have moved to a UAV control center in Britain. For the last four years British Reaper operators worked out of the main U.S. Air Force UAV control operation in Nevada, at first as part of a joint U.S./British Reaper unit. This was a convenient and inexpensive way to learn how to operate such a center (where UAVs are operated via satellite link).
Britain first bought Reapers in 2007, via an "under urgent operational requirement deal" to support British troops in Afghanistan. The British were very pleased with the performance of their Reapers (despite some being lost because of a mechanical failure). The joint task force in Nevada enabled British operators and commanders to quickly absorb the U.S. experience with Reaper and Predator UAVs. Like the Americans, the British find that the "persistence" (long flight time) of Reaper a crucial advantage. This capability has put the Taliban at an enormous disadvantage, and much improved the security, and offensive capabilities, for British forces. The British also find the Reaper a lot more cost effective than other combat aircraft like the Harrier and AH-64 helicopter gunship.
Three years ago Britain decided to increase its force of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs (to about 25). Currently Britain has five reapers and is to receive more this year. Since 2009, at least two British Reapers have been in Afghanistan at any one time. The first British Reaper entered service in Afghanistan in 2007, and British Reapers have since then spent over 45,000 hours in the air. Since 2008, British Reapers have been armed. So far British Reapers have used those weapons (usually Hellfire missiles) 350 times. British reaper crews usually consist of one operator (pilot) and two sensor operators.
Before the British Reapers arrived in Afghanistan, Britain leased Predator size Hermes 450 UAVs from Israel. But the larger Reaper is the preferred aircraft in this department. Each MQ-9 Reaper cost $18 million each (with ground equipment and high end sensors). The 4.7 ton American built Reaper has a wingspan of 21 meters (66 feet) and a payload of 1.7 tons. Nearly 200 Reapers are in service, mostly with U.S. forces.
Reaper is considered a combat aircraft because it can carry over a ton of bombs or missiles. This includes the 49 kg (108 pound) Hellfire missile and up to four 228 kg (500 pound) laser or GPS guided smart bombs. Reapers can carry four Hellfires in place of one JDAM. Often, a Hellfire is preferred because of the risk of civilians nearby getting hurt. The UAVs have a major advantage over manned fighter-bombers, in that they can stay over the target area longer, and do so with relief crews, so that there are always alert eyes using the powerful sensors (similar to the targeting pods on fighters) carried by the Reaper.