A newly formed squadron of remote, unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan will be controlled from the UK for the first time, the chief of the air staff has announced.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton said a new Reaper Squadron will form at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, taking over the squadron number of the disbanded Number XIII Tornado Squadron.
With high-tech sensors and precision-guided weapons, Reapers carry out a range of missions, using sensors day and night to spy on insurgent activity for hours at a time and at a range where they are undetectable from the ground.
They are currently controlled by 39 Squadron crews at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
But speaking at the disbandment of Number XIII Tornado Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk, Air Chief Marshall Dalton said the squadron number will transfer to a second Reaper Squadron next year.
He said: "The Royal Air Force is today delivering air power operations in Afghanistan, Libya and the Falkland Islands and, as XIII Squadron's Tornados have shown, making a fantastic contribution to the very positive progress in the military campaigns in all these locations.
"This transition will see us bring Reaper mission control to the UK, make more efficient and effective use of our resources in exploiting this growing capability and enable the operation of significantly more combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan 24 hours a day."
XIII Squadron was formed in 1915 and continued its record through both world wars and operations over Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009 the squadron conducted the last Tornado sortie over Iraq in support of Operation Telic, then in the summer of 2010 XIII Squadron deployed on Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. The squadron was also at the fore of operations over Libya.
Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "Reaper aircraft are providing valuable support to our frontline troops in Afghanistan. The formation of this new squadron follows our doubling of the Reaper capability to 10 aircraft, which represents an increased investment of £135 million."