An RAF surveillance aircraft has returned back to the UK after nearly four months on operations to return security and stability to Mali.
The Sentinel R1 touched down at its home base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire to be welcomed by senior officers who paid tribute to its role supporting French-led military operations against violent extremist groups in the north of the West African country.
RAF intelligence-gathering and surveillance units – such as the Sentinel flown from RAF Waddington – are the UK’s airborne ‘eyes and ears,’ and provide decision-makers with an essential understanding of evolving crises around the world.
The aircraft with its ground-mapping radar is able to detect personnel and vehicle movements from many miles away enabling military commanders on the ground to make informed tactical decisions.
Since the Sentinel entered service in November 2008 it has been deployed on an ongoing basis for counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
And since January (2013) the Sentinel aircraft fleet, operated by 5 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, has been operating in both Afghanistan in support of British and Coalition Forces, and Mali in support of the French and UN forces, at the same time.
Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha who greeted the five-man crew on their arrival said: “I am extremely proud of the efforts of 5 (AC) Squadron who have been simultaneously operating in both Africa and Afghanistan; this essential capability is contributing real genuine operational effect making sure our understanding of what’s going on on the ground is much improved through the use of Sentinel’s world beating sensors”
Officer Commanding 5 (AC) Squadron, Wing Commander Al Marshall, said: “This has been an exceptionally busy period for the Squadron during which we have provided support to two operational theatres; Afghanistan and Mali. This level of output is testament to just how capable and adaptable the Sentinel platform is. When you combine such a capability with motivated and well trained personnel that can deploy rapidly, we can deliver an enormous amount to Defence even though we are a single Squadron”
Detachment Commander Wing Commander Tim Monk said: “The last four months have demonstrated what the RAF can achieve with the right resources and the unique capability that is Sentinel. 5 (AC) Squadron and supporting RAF Waddington personnel deployed with only three days’ notice and were set up and ready to run within 48 hours of arriving. The Senegalese gave us a really warm welcome and during our time there we formed excellent working relationships and a real sense of camaraderie with the French forces and other NATO partners”
The aircraft deployed to West Africa on 25 January, arriving the next day, and carried out its first operational mission on 30 January. In total, it successfully completed 70 reconnaissance missions gathering a total of 700 hours’ worth of high quality imagery.
RAF involvement in the UK’s military assistance programme to Mali has also included providing C17 transport aircraft, based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, to carry troops and equipment from France, Nigeria and Ghana to Mali.
Source/Author: RAF/Simon Mander