News story

RAF foils insurgent bombers in Afghanistan

Royal Air Force Tornado fast jets have scattered insurgents and helped to capture lethal explosives.

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Tornado GR4 jets on a reconnaissance mission [Picture: Jamie Hunter, Crown copyright]

Tornado GR4 jets on a reconnaissance mission; the Litening III pod can be seen underneath the foreground aircraft

Two RAF Tornado GR4 fast jets protected civilians and Afghan-led international forces on the ground by scattering insurgents who were attempting to plant a roadside bomb ahead of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoy.

Using the advanced Litening III surveillance pod, the aircraft, from Number 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, helped ISAF troops capture and destroy a lethal quantity of explosives that could have claimed many lives.

The jets’ aircrew spotted insurgents placing the deadly improvised explosive device (IED) just hundreds of metres ahead of a convoy of US and Afghan troops, which the squadron had been called in to support following an earlier IED blast.

Pilot Flight Lieutenant Geoff Williams (left) and navigator Flight Lieutenant Mark Hodgkiss
Pilot Flight Lieutenant Geoff Williams (left) and navigator Flight Lieutenant Mark Hodgkiss at Kandahar Airfield [Picture: Sergeant Ross Tilly, Crown copyright]

Pilot Flight Lieutenant Geoff Williams flew one of the aircraft above the convoy. He said:

Identifying insurgent activity from 10,000 feet can be challenging but in this case it was clearly suspicious. Two people on a motorbike rendezvoused with 2 others waiting by a small bridge. They collected items stored under the bridge and began digging in the road.

VIDEO: RAF jets foil insurgent bombers in Afghanistan

Alert to the risk that the insurgents were planting a roadside bomb, Flight Lieutenant Williams flew an intimidating ‘show of presence’ over them, flying low and fast and firing flares to startle and deter them and reassure the friendly convoy. He said:

Having been startled by our jet noise the insurgents fled by motorbike. The whole event was over in a minute. The presence of a Tornado provides a huge psychological impact, reassuring ISAF troops and the civilian population, and sparking fear in the insurgents.

Still image captured by one of the Tornado targeting pods
Still image captured by one of the Tornado targeting pods, labelled to show the insurgents on a motorcycle and the location of the buried explosives [Picture: Crown copyright]

The Afghan-partnered ISAF convoy included troops from the Texas-based 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment of the US Army’s 1st Armoured Division. Sergeant Louis Awua, the unit’s forward air controller, said:

When the Brits do shows of presence they almost scrape the ground. They fly so low you don’t know what it means!

What I like is the quality of the pilots and the quality of the sensors. They report everything that they see.

Eyes in the skies

Litening III and the advanced reconnaissance airborne pod for Tornado, or ‘RAPTOR’, give the Tornado GR4 a powerful ability to provide forces on the ground with up-to-the minute data to help commanders make well-informed decisions.

Wing Commander Jez Holmes
Wing Commander Jez Holmes in the cockpit of a Tornado GR4 prior to take off at Kandahar Airfield [Picture: Sergeant Ross Tilly, Crown copyright]

Wing Commander Jez Holmes, officer commanding 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, was piloting the second aircraft involved in the mission. The ISAF troops used data from his aircraft’s Litening III pod to locate and destroy the insurgents’ hastily buried bomb.

Wing Commander Holmes said:

The troops found enough explosives to have caused multiple casualties among coalition forces or the local civilian population. It’s good to have removed that threat.

Tornado GR4s are based at Kandahar Airfield as part of the RAF’s 904 Expeditionary Air Wing, and are routinely called on to support Afghan-led ground forces across Afghanistan.

Published 10 April 2014