Like many others, I was surprised by the announcement by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, that his Reaper drone crews will be eligible for the new Operational Service Medal for their contribution to the war in Syria and the defeat of IS, or Daesh. Traditionally, medals have always been awarded based on risk and rigour. Not much risk sitting in a nice warm office up at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where they operate their Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs.) More like playing computer games? Where’s the risk and rigour in that? However, on digging deeper I have changed my mind. There is no doubt that the RAF’s drone operators have made a major contribution to the defeat of IS and deserve recognition. An unnamed pilot said the drone operators’ job is very different to his Typhoon force operations. The RAF pilot, with 30 long and dangerous combat missions over Syria during his Akrotiri tour, made the point: “In some ways it is identical, in some way it is totally different. I think they have it a lot harder in some ways . .
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