Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance
A new chapter for the RAF began in January 2005 when 1115 Flight was established at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, to operate US Air Force owned General Atomics M/RQ-1 Predator unmanned Remotley Piloted Air System (RPAS). The 45 British tri-service personnel assigned to the unit trained in UAV operations and tactics before becoming ‘A’ Flight of 39 Squadron when it was re-established on 3 January 2007. ‘B’ Flight received the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) to fulfil a UOR. The MQ-9s operate from Kandahar to provide a persistent ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capability to British and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Further MQ-9s have been ordered, while the Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP) continues to look at RPAS applications for other emerging requirements. RPASs are just part of the UK military’s emerging Network Enabled Capability, which will take information gathered from a variety of platforms and collate it into useful packages for the warfighter. RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, is the home of the RAF’s ISTAR activities. Here servicemen are assigned to the three operational squadrons which fly the RAF’s seven Boeing Sentry AEW.1s and three HS Nimrod R.1s, and 54(R) Squadron, which is responsible for ISTAR training and developing techniques. in addition, 5(AC) Squadron is in the process of introducing the ASTOR (Airborne Stand-Off Radar) system into service.
Sentry AEW.1s provide air and sea surveillance, airborne command and control, and weapons control, and serve as communications relay platforms. They are operated by 8 Squadron as the British component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force. In early 2008, only six of the fleet were airworthy, although Northrop Grumman has been contracted to return the seventh to service by this November.
The Nimrod R.1 electronic intelligence platforms are extremely busy, operating not only in support of ongoing operations but also the routine monitoring of the electronic order of battles of potential enemies. Each carries a sophisticated suite of equipment manned by a crew of 24 reconnaissance-equipment operators, commanded by a mission supervisor.
Sentinel is a ground surveillance and information distribution system designed to provide near real-time data to UK and Allied Military Forces, using a number of integral communications systems. It comprises of an Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) fitted to the airborne sensor platform and a number of ground components manned by servicemen from all three branches of the British Armed Forces. The Raytheon Sentinel R1 acts as the airborne sensor platform, carrying a Raytheon Dual Mode Radar (DMR) providing both synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and moving target indicator (MTI). The ground component consists of two transportable Ground Stations (GS) that are available to support deployed headquarters, and six mobile GS to support Division and Brigade formations.
No.5(AC) Squadron stood up at RAF Waddington on 1 April 2004. However, it was only on 6 June 2007, that the first Sentinel R1 was delivered to the RAF. The Sentinel system entered service with the RAF in November 2008 and an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was declared on 30 June 2009. Sentinel has been supporting operations in Afghanistan since November 2008 and has provided an enduring capability since June 2009. Sentinel continues to support and plays a vital role to operations in Afghanistan supporting both UK and Coalition forces. Under the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) it was announced that the Sentinel system will be withdrawn from service on 1 April 2015; this is 20 years ahead of its original out of service date.