Drone pilots who bomb Islamic State (IS) fighters could be awarded military medals under a review of how servicemen and women are recognised for their contribution to British operations, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Currently medals are awarded according to a consideration of rigour and risk, with risk defined as being physically exposed to danger.
But Sir Michael Fallon said a rethink may be needed as the UK deploys more unmanned aircraft on operations such as those targeting IS, also known as Daesh, from the skies above Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Shader.
Speaking on a visit to British troops in Iraq, he said: “The changing character of warfare provides new challenges – not just about how we fight but also how we recognise and support those who serve.
“As fighting has evolved we have adapted, ensuring our troops have cutting-edge equipment, including unmanned systems operated from outside the battle space.
“Our recognition of service, the risks taken, and the long-term effects must therefore adapt too.
“That is why we need to examine how to provide medallic recognition for those making a vital contribution to Op Shader outside the battle space, from Reaper pilots taking life-and-death decisions to those who ensure our planes can strike Daesh targets.”
Sir Michael also announced the creation of an Operation Shader medal for those who have fought IS, which he described as “the evil of our time”.
It follows Labour calls for recognition of servicemen and women fighting IS.
The Defence Secretary said: “It is only right that those who’ve performed above and beyond in this fight against the evil of our time get the recognition they deserve. This medal will do just that.
“Our troops have made huge contributions to the fight against Daesh, helping end its tyranny in large parts of Iraq and Syria.
“They have conducted over 1,500 strikes against Daesh terrorist targets and helped train nearly 60,000 Iraqi Security Forces.
“The campaign is not over but for those that have served we rightly honour the critical role they have played in helping keep us safe.”
During the visit, on the eve of the bombing campaign’s three-year anniversary, Sir Michael met personnel from the Mercian Regiment, Engineer Regiment, Intelligence Corps and medical regiments at Erbil and Taji.
They have been involved in training Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish forces and Ninewah police.
Britain has provided more than 1,400 servicemen and women to the global coalition fighting IS and there are currently around 600 soldiers on the ground in Iraq, mainly training local security forces.
On his trip to the Middle East, the Defence Secretary also visited the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where the UK is working closely with the US as the two largest contributors to the coalition’s military campaign.