Drone pilots in Islamic State fight awarded medals

A Reaper drone Image copyright MoD
Image caption Crews based at RAF Waddington fly Reaper drones which can carry Hellfire missiles or 500lb bombs

The first medals have been awarded to drone pilots involved in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS).

Crews at RAF Waddington, near Lincoln, were today honoured for carrying out strikes and surveillance in Iraq and Syria.

Service medals have traditionally been awarded to those who put themselves in the way of physical danger.

But the eligibility criteria were extended to reflect the changing nature of warfare.

Drone expert Prof Peter Lee submitted a report to Parliament recommending crews be given medals.

He said the medals recognised what military personnel go through "psychologically, visually and emotionally" while operating Reaper drones.

"Aircraft have gotten further physically from the target and it has been assumed that with physical distance comes psychological distance," said Prof Lee.

"But with such fine-grain screens they're actually visually closer than an archer at Agincourt 600 years ago."

Image caption In 2012, RAF Waddington became home to the UK's first armed drone squadron

Crews based at RAF Waddington took part in Operation Shader, targeting IS, also known as Daesh.

An executive officer, identified only as Andy, said: "We were not physically in the area but we contributed to the campaign, every minute, every hour we fly is on operations and it's great for the crews to be recognised for their efforts."

Last year, medals were given out for the first time to UK military personnel involved in the fight against IS.

The Queen approved an extension of the eligibility criteria medal to include personnel operating outside "the traditional area of operations".

Image copyright Ministry of Defence
Image caption The medals presented to personnel based outside the conventional area of operations do not carry a clasp sitting across the ribbon bearing the words Iraq and Syria.

More than 60 personnel from 13 Squadron have been honoured during a special ceremony at RAF Waddington.

Today, drone pilots, sensor operators and mission intelligence co-ordinators were presented with the Operation Shader medal.

Wing Cdr Mark Jackson, said: "It's absolutely right and proper they should be recognised for the support they have delivered in defeating IS and Daesh in the Middle East."

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