Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 00:35 UK

Call to open up range to drones

British soldier with UAV
The British Army has used UAVs in Afghanistan

Campaigners who fought the planned downgrading of an island rocket range are making a case for it to be used in the testing of unmanned aircraft.

The UK government announced on Tuesday it had abandoned proposals to cut jobs and the running of the range at South Uist and associated sites.

The Hebrides Range Taskforce has now called for the trialling of unmanned aerial vehicles to be fully embraced.

The range is said to be the largest of its kind in Europe.

A barrier to expansion is the terms of the contract between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and contractor QinetiQ, which are too restrictive, the taskforce said.

Defence technology giant QinetiQ operates the islands range and associated sites for the MoD.

Taskforce chairman Angus Campbell said: "We continue to call for the MoD to review its long-term partnership agreement with QinetiQ, as this prevents either party from exploring more ambitious options to make the UK a world leader in technology such as the development of unmanned aerial vehicles."

The Hebrides range has 35,000 square kilometres of segregated air space making it the largest range in Europe
Donald Booth
Economic Development and Defence

He added: "We must continue to make the case for the range as a prime asset for the UK and one that could, and should, be developed. In addition, the economy of the Uists must be strengthened and diversified."

Donald Booth, managing director of Dunfermline-based Economic Development and Defence, said it could be opened up for the testing of both commercial and military vehicles.

He said UAVs have been flown at the range in the past, but more work could be done on the islands and close ties forged with aerospace research projects at Scottish universities.

Because UAVs are not approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, they have to be flown in segregated air space - protected areas where they will not pose a risk to civilian aircraft.

Mr Booth said: "The Hebrides range has 35,000 square kilometres of segregated air space making it the largest range in Europe.

"It could be used for the development of military UAVs, but also those for a huge civilian market.

"Drones are being proposed for dangerous and dull missions such as targeting speeding cars on motorways, monitoring incidents and checking power and pipe lines."

British forces have used UAV spy drones in Afghanistan.

The MoD showcased current and next-generation UAVs at an exhibition in March.

The event was held as part of National Science and Engineering Week - an annual event celebrating science, engineering and technology - and to give manufacturers the chance to show off some of their creations.

The US is the world's biggest user and developer of unmanned aircraft - including the £38m MQ-9 Reaper.

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