RAF pilots to get help of ‘drone squadron’ to confuse enemy and deliver weapons

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RAF pilots will soon have vital back-up against enemy attack – thanks to Britain’s first drone squadron.

The pilotless aircraft will fly into action alongside fighter jets to project them from anti-aircraft systems.

And in future they could be armed to take out targets.

The pioneering fleet of low cost 12in drones will be carried in pods on 216 Squadron’s F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoons – and controlled by the pilots.

A source said: “The swarming drones, or ‘loyal wingmen’ as they are being called, could operate in many modes – from confusing the enemy to delivering weapons, electronic jamming, intelligence and surveillance.”

The project is part of a £160million push to revolutionise our Armed Forces. It’s hoped the swarms will allow pilots to “deliver lethal combat power more effectively and safely”.

The Ministry of Defence says trials are being carried out in the UK and abroad and the squadron – which has “exceeded expectations” – is set to be ready by April.

More and more drones, some costing less than £1,000, are being used by the British military to limit the risk to life.

But the RAF has unveiled a new armed surveillance drone system, the Protector, which can fly for 40 hours and fire missiles and laser-guided bombs, costing £415million.

RAF boffins making Star Wars a reality

“They thought hard to save us” could be the RAF’s future motto if its latest technological breakthrough takes off.

Boffins are building the world’s first virtual reality combat jet – armed with Star Wars-style lasers. And it could eventually be flown by thought alone.

Experts say the aircraft, called Tempest, will enter service around 2035 and change air wars forever.

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Pilots will be able to fly it manned or unmanned, using special virtual reality gloves and a helmet- mounted display screen. The aircraft is being designed by the RAF along with BAe Systems and Rolls Royce.

Jean Page of BAE Systems said: “We are looking at what we call a wearable cockpit, a virtual display, projected through the helmet.”

An “eye-tracking” system would mean pilots could look at a target to highlight then make a gesture with the gloves rather than pressing a firing button.

More and more drones, some costing less than £1,000, are being used by the British military to limit the risk to life

Air Marshall Greg Bagwell, a former senior RAF commander, said one of the main advantages of the Tempest will be a laser to replace guns that run out of ammunition.

“Whoever designed the Star Wars scenes might turn out to be a visionary in 50 years’ time,” he said.

The fighter will also carry drones. It is also possible that by the time Tempest enters service advances in technology may mean it can be flown by the pilot’s brain.

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Computer giant Honeywell is already reportedly conducting research into flying by thought. Tempest could also be hypersonic, flying at over 4,000 mph.

So far the project has cost £2billion and the cost of each jet could easily exceed £100million at current rates.

The RAF said Tempest “will join the RAF fleet from 2035, and will replace the Typhoon’s capabilities”.

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