Victor Tanker with Tornado and Buccaneer

Pave Spike in Granby

Pave Spike in Granby - System background

The Spike pod. At the beginning of the RAF's operations in the Gulf it was deemed that Laser target marking for precision weapons was not a foreseeable need or priority. As the air campaign developed, this attitude changed rapidly as the type and nature of the most significant targets demanded the use of precision guided munitions. The all-weather, day and night TIALD (Thermal Imaging and Laser Designation) pod was still in development, in fact, only two existed, and one of these was the trials system!

Both of the TIALD pods were eventually shipped to the Gulf, and did sterling service with the Tornado Force. Prior to this however, another solution had to be found, and quickly.

The Buccaneer Squadrons, at the time a purely Maritime Attack Force, had within their ranks a secondary wartime role of over-land Laser Designation for such aircraft as the Jaguar, and so the superb but ageing aircraft with its Pave Spike designation system was rushed to the Gulf. The term rushed is used advisedly, such was the dire need for the system in theatre that the Squadrons were on a 24 hour notice to move from their base at Lossimouth in Scotland, and several aircraft of the first deployment departed with the paint still wet.

So what was Pave Spike, and what exactly did it do?

Westinghouse AN/ASQ 153 (E) "Pave Spike" Laser Target Designator

The Buccaneer Originally supplied to the US Air Force for use with the F-4D & E types it was acquired by the MoD(Air)/RAF in late 1978 for utilisation with (Texas Instruments) Pave Way seeker systems, fitted to 1,000 and 2,000 lb bombs.

The pod was mounted on the port inner pylon and had a daylight black & white TV tracking sensor and a laser designator/ranger. Its associated subsystems in the aircraft consisted of a control unit, TV display unit (made by Marconi Avionics for AJ-168, TV Martel) and a (TEAC) video recorder. Simply put, the TV tracking sensor displayed its picture on the display unit screen originally fitted to the Buccaneer for use with the TV guided version of the Martel missile. The Pave Spike pod did this via an Interface Combiner Unit effectively allowing one screen to do both jobs, and therefore did not clutter the already cramped rear cockpit of the Buccaneer with yet another display. This highly efficient and effective fit was the work of the TV Martel Project Team from GEC Sensors/Marconi Avionics.

The target would be identified and centered in the display, and the Laser designator swtiched on, marking the target for the Pave Way seekers on the noses of the bombs, which would then home onto the Laser "dot". The backseater in the designator aircraft could control the TV tracking sensor and the Laser very accurately using the trackball on the control unit. The system was well proven, and allowed successful strikes against such narrow targets as road bridges and other relatively small objects. Largely, the accuracy achieved was due to the skill of the backseaters. They had to track the target manually on their screens to keep the Laser dot in the right place for anything up to 40 seconds while the bombs were in flight. Not an easy task in a manoeuvering aircraft.

The last part of the system, the video recorder, was used in post-strike debriefings to assess the damage to the target, and to assess the efficacy of the system. The black and white footage also found its way onto millions of TV screens in homes around the world, underlining the effectivness of the Allied Air Campaign.

Close up of Spike pod In operation, a normal 'Spiker' sortie consisted of 6 aircraft in 2 cells, i.e. 1 Buccaneer and 2 Tornado's per cell, with the Buccaneer's target designating for the Tornados. The cells were also mutual support for each other, if the Laser on one Buccaneer failed for whatever reason, the other 'Spiker' could designate for the whole mission.

As the campaign developed, other PaveWay/Spike configurations were used. Buccaneers of 12 and 208 Squadrons and 237 OCU were used in 'Spiker' configuration as bombers in their own right, carrying a Paveway weapon on the starboard pylon opposite the Pave Spike pod. Altogether 169 Laser Guided Bombs were dropped using the Pave Spike designator. The combination of the excellent Buccaneer aircraft with the effective Pave Spike pod made for a near-perfect mission platform for the theatre and conditions, the only drawback with the system is that it had no night or all-weather capability, but these shortcomings were made up by the small number of TIALD pods that entered service before the campaigns end. It was a fitting end to the Buccaneers in-service life.

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