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Reaper airborne war-droids to patrol 2012 Olympics

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The RAF will use its new force of MQ-9 "Reaper" robo-planes to patrol the skies above the London Olympics in 2012, according to reports.

The Herald of Scotland reports today that the five-tonne unmanned drones will fly above the capital providing surveillance as part of the enormous security effort planned for the Games. The machines are fitted with a multi-spectral telescopic imaging system, able to detect a human's body heat and see in the dark. They also carry a synthetic-aperture radar capable of tracking individual people walking on the ground, though this may be of limited use in the context of Olympic crowds.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight

Enjoy the Olympics in an orderly fashion, citizens.

It's thought that the MQ-9s will operate within an air exclusion zone in order to help prevent collisions with other aircraft. The drones are handled remotely by fully-qualified pilots, but this hasn't prevented mishaps in the past - indeed it has caused at least one.

At present the RAF has just three Reapers, operated alongside American ones in Afghanistan. The US drones are used as weapons platforms, and the aircraft are capable of carrying almost two tonnes of ordnance including Hellfire laser-guided missiles and Paveway or JDAM smartbombs.

American Reapers are designated as "hunter-killer" systems, and have already delivered deadly airstrikes against Afghan insurgents. The RAF doesn't arm its own MQ-9s at present, but may do so in future. The UK has recently applied to purchase a further ten airframes and a substantial package of spares and support from the US.

UK Reapers will be operated by the RAF's 39 Squadron, which contains personnel from the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm as well as airmen. It is said that all the actual drone pilots are RAF at present, however.

The Herald report can be read here. ®

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