The Tornado GR4 Provides Crucial Reconnaissance
RAF Tornado pilots newly arrived to Afghanistan have already
seen action over Helmand Province, providing support to coalition
ground operations. Flying out of Kandahar Airfield the Tornado GR4
provides crucial reconnaissance of the country and is one of many
coalition fast jets in Afghanistan that can be 'scrambled' at short
notice to assist ground 'troops in contact', a term used when
forces are under enemy fire.
Flight Lieutenant Ben Mark, part of II (Army Co-operation)
Squadron, normally based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, arrived in
Afghanistan at the beginning of June. He says his role in
Afghanistan and the missions he has already undertaken is primarily
in support of ground forces. "Today's task was just over three
hours in the air, providing over watch for some British troops
setting up a forward operating base," he said. "My job was to
observe what was going on around them, to keep an eye on them and
offer help if they needed it. From our height we are able to see
the bigger picture of what is happening on the ground."
However, Mark said the previous day's mission was a much
different situation. "A Forward Air Controller (FAC) out on patrol
with United States troops asked for fast air support," Flt Lt Mark
said. "We were tasked as the nearest available jet, so he talked us
to his position, giving us his location and telling us what was
going on around him. We could hear the bullets being fired and the
nerves in his voice as he asked for our help."
As in this incident, almost all of the communication a Tornado
crew will have is with a Forward Air Controller. They could be any
of nationality, and are usually Army personnel who will have a good
understanding of what air support can offer.
Getting the jet to where it needs to be is the job of navigator
Martin Cutting. "Although we are armed when we fly, deploying bombs
from the aircraft is always a last resort - we often carry out what
is called a 'show of force'. Flying low and fast lets potential
enemy forces know we are there, it's the noise we create that makes
the difference. We can often deter the enemy from taking further
action against our troops on the ground."
Flying alongside experienced personnel like Flt Lt Mark are
crews on their first operational detachment such as Flight
Lieutenants Chris Jenkins and Jamie Newton who have been on II (AC)
Squadron for just a few months. Flt Lt Newton is a navigator. After
his first Close Air Support mission in Afghanistan. "You overcome
your nerves and use the adrenalin to stay focused," he said. "We
were called to help check an area was clear of suspected enemy
forces - we then had feedback from the guys on the ground that what
we did was of great help - that gives me a real sense of
Pilot Flt Lt Jenkins added "It's been a real eye opener coming
out here, there is so much more to what we do than you see in the
news. We've been too busy to feel nervous, and it's great to be
able to work with the coalition forces."