The Daily Telegraph

RAF pilots on a mission to perfect drone skills in Israel

- By James Rothwell

RAF pilots have begun training with their Israeli counterpar­ts as part of the first major drone exercise by Western powers.

The exercise, dubbed Blue Guardian, is taking place at the coastal Palmachim airbase in Israel, where pilots are operating the Israeli Hermes 450 drone.

Along with drone pilots from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshi­re, teams from the United States, France, Italy and Germany are also taking part in the two-week exercise.

“The teams will simulate various scenarios, including ground troop support, reconnaiss­ance and intelligen­ce collection­s missions and cooperatio­n with various forces in the air,” an Israel Defence Forces spokesman said.

Israeli military officials say the state is increasing­ly relying on drones as a surveillan­ce and intelligen­ce tool, adding that during the recent conflict in Gaza, some 20 drones were flying over the territory at any given moment.

They added that Israel was quickly becoming a drone “superpower”, but it was eager to exchange expertise with Western allies.

During a visit to the Palmachim base, The Daily Telegraph saw a three-man Reaper team from the RAF taking part in a mock intelligen­ce-gathering mission where they used the Hermes drone to spot enemy assets.

It comes after British, Israeli and US forces held a joint exercise in Israel’s Negev desert where they drilled air-toair combat and air strike scenarios.

Earlier this year, the RAF unveiled a new Protector drone that can stay in the air for 40 hours and can carry out surveillan­ce in all weather conditions.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has said that the Protector could be used to record evidence of people smugglers traffickin­g migrants across the English Channel.

“It helps us in terms of not just getting footage but actually identifyin­g people smugglers, the very people that are facilitati­ng these crossings,” she said.

“We provide that evidence to court, which is why we get the levels of sanctions and penalties that we’ve achieved so far.

The Ministry of Defence agreed in July last year to purchase the first three of 16 Protector drones, which are due to replace a fleet of Reaper aircraft in 2024.

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