The price of British Hellfire

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Hellfire missiles being loaded onto an Apache helicopter
Royal Navy Media Archive
Hellfire missiles being loaded onto an Apache helicopter on HMS Illustrious, off the coast of Scotland

Britain has spent £44.455 million firing Hellfire missiles in coalition operations in Iraq and Syria over the last 20 months, according to Minister of State for Defence Michael Penning. The information was provided in a Commons written answer in response to a question by Alison Thewliss MP (SNP, Glasgow Central) prompted by a question from a constituent.

Michael Penning said:

"Between November 2014 and the end of August 2016 there have been 473 Hellfire missiles used in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation SHADER. The estimated cost of the use of these missiles is £44.455 million."

In a letter to her constituent, Alison Thewliss described this as "an obscene amount of money to spend when people are facing cuts to frontline services and having to bear the brunt of savage Tory austerity. "

She added:

"Rest assured that I and other SNP MPs will continue to scrutinise the UK's ongoing involvement in military action in Syria and pressure the UK Government to commit to a coherent post-conflict strategy which seeks to prioritise long-term peace and stability in Syria."

Operation SHADER is the name for Britain's part in the military actions of the international coalition against ISIS (ISIL).

AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are supposedly precision air to surface missiles originally developed for anti-tank use, but now used against a wide range of targets. They are manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Brimstone missiles, derived from the AGM-114 Hellfire, are manufactured in the UK by European consortium MBDA. Both Brimstone and Hellfire missiles are used in Operation SHADER in Iraq and Syria. Brimstone missiles are presumably not included in the figure provided by Michael Penning. Alison Thewliss MP has tabled a separate question about this.

Hellfire missiles have been used by the US to assasinate high profile individuals. Any missiles used by the UK in last year's assasination of UK citizen Reyaad Khan would be excluded from Michael Penning's cost estimate, since that operation was "was not part of coalition military action against ISIL in Syria" according to a Commons statement by Prime Minister David Cameron. Missiles used in any attempted operations along similar lines would presumably also be excluded.

The House of Commons voted on 26 September 2014 in favour of airstrikes in Iraq, as part of the international coalition, by a majority of 523 to 42. All 6 SNP MPs voted against airstrikes, as did 24 Labour rebels, 6 Tory rebels and 1 Liberal Democrat rebel.

The House of Commons voted on 2 December 2015 in favour of airstrikes in Syria, as part of the international coalition, by a majority of 397 to 223. 153 Labour MPs voted against airstrikes, as did all 54 SNP MPs and 2 rebel Liberal Democrat MPs. 66 rebel Labour MPs voted in favour of airstrikes.

The House of Commons has never voted on the use of airstrikes for assasinations such as the one in which Reyyad Khan was killed.