The Commons Defence Committee has reported serious shortcomings in the effectiveness of robot planes operated by Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan, caused by a shortage of skilled operators.
The Ministry of Defence bought three ‘Reaper’ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - or UAVs - from the US, and also operates the less powerful Hermes 450 and Desert Hawk types. Critics say the MoD was slow to recognise the potential of robot aircraft, which are meant to detect insurgent forces, snipers and roadside bombs.
“We are facing a 48% shortfall in operator numbers,” admitted an Army spokesman. “Our training scheme hit unforeseen delays when someone lost the disc for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3 – although, to be honest, the performance envelope of the Reaper doesn’t quite match that of a Spitfire Mark 9, and the trainee operators were getting shot down by Messerschmitt 262s way before they could get to grips with the finer points of flying under bridges and shooting up flak trains. To the best of our knowledge, al-Qaeda does not currently possess Nazi jet fighter technology, so the accuracy of the simulation was questionable. We have been forced back onto Combat Flight Simulator 2 instead - which, with its Japanese suicide bomber attacks, bears a little more resemblance to the situation on the ground. Except, of course, in the simulation they’re not on the ground. Looking on the bright side, though, if the various terrorist factions start using hang-gliders, we’re ready for them.”