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RAF (Royal Air Force) Surveillance Aircraft Clock up 20,000 Flying Hours

RAF (Royal Air Force) Surveillance Aircraft Clock up 20,000 Flying Hours

Surveillance aircraft based at RAF Waddington have notched up a collective total of 20,000 flying hours protecting British and other ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

The high-tech, state-of-the-art Sentinel R1 aircraft of No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron and Shadow R1 aircraft of 14 Squadron have each clocked up 10,000 hours on Operation HERRICK.

While based in Britain aircraft from both units have been permanently patrolling the skies above Afghanistan since 2009 gathering vital intelligence on insurgent activities.

RAF Waddington Station Commander Group Captain Al Gillespie said: "The search capabilities of Sentinel and Shadow have provided UK and coalition partners with an unprecedented insight into the unique operating environment of Afghanistan. The ability to search vast areas and provide real-time information to others has led to more efficient and effective application of other military capabilities such as remotely-piloted air vehicles, coalition helicopter-borne forces, light-armed reconnaissance vehicles and combat aircraft.

"Its superb capabilities, with its ground-mapping radar and ability to detect personnel and vehicle movements from many miles away, have led to some ground forces describing it as a 'go/no-go' asset for their operations - meaning that without Sentinel they would not continue."

On 14 August 2012 Sentinel hit the milestone of 10,000 operational hours in support of British and coalition troops, with more than half of these hours clocked up since May 2011.

Wing Commander Al Marshall, Officer Commanding No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, said: "The achievement of 10,000 flying hours since the recent introduction of the Sentinel capability highlights the significant commitment by, and excellent teamwork between, squadron personnel, industry and our other supporting organisations.

"The rate of effort, particularly when Sentinel was simultaneously deployed to both Afghan and Libyan theatres, has been exceptional, and has delivered a superb contribution to Defence and reinforced the overall importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities."

Shadow came into operational service in July 2009 and operated as a flight within No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron. Its impact and success was immediate and as more aircraft were delivered so the operational commitments grew.

To cope with the extra commitment the Shadow Flight became 14 Squadron on 14 October 2011 and a fifth aircraft was added in December 2011. Operations continue apace and on 19 July 2012 the squadron marked a significant achievement by flying its 10,000th operational hour.

Wing Commander Rich Moir, Officer Commanding 14 Squadron, said: "Marking the 10,000th operational hour for the Shadow R1 is very important as it is a significant milestone, and stands as testament to the hard work, dedication and determination of all those associated with the success of this unique platform.

"Since it was first introduced into service it has had an outstanding serviceability rate and delivered consistently in the skies over Afghanistan. It is an achievement that all associated with the project should be very proud of."

RAF Waddington is the UK hub of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities supporting national and NATO operations.

Sentinel R1 Aircraft

Roles: The aircraft, Sentinel R1, is a modified version of the Global Express, which is an executive business jet manufactured by Bombardier.

Engines: 2 BMW/Rolls Royce 710 engines
Thrust: 14,750lbs each
Max speed: 0.89Mach
Length: 99.5ft
Max altitude: 49,000ft
Span: 93.6ft
Aircrew: 5

Aircraft details

The aircraft, Sentinel R1, is a modified version of the Global Express, which is an executive business jet manufactured by Bombardier. Wingspan of 93' 6", length of 99' 5". Powered by 2 BMW/ Rolls Royce 710 engines. Each can produce 14,750 lbs thrust at ISA +20. Max Operating altitude is 49,000 ft but usually flies at endurance at 40,000 ft. Max speed is M.89.


2 RAF Pilots. 1 RAF Mission Commander. 2 Image Analysts (either RAF or Army Intelligence Corps).

Sentinel System

After the 1990 Gulf War, it was identified by the allies that Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance had played a key role in the success of this operation. In particular, the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) had proved invaluable in the tracking and prosecution of enemy ground forces. This galvanised the UK to acquire its own capability and in 1993 the requirement was endorsed by the MOD.

The solution chosen by the MOD was the Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) to be known as the Sentinel system. The Sentinel system consists of Air, Land and Support segments. The Air segment consists of 5 converted Bombardier Global Express aircraft, named the Sentinel R1, fitted with a Dual Mode Radar (DMR). This radar is similar to the U2 ASARS radar, and collects SAR imagery and GMTI data. The Land segment consists of 2 transportable Operational Level Ground Stations (OLGS) and 6 mobile Tactical Ground Stations (TGS). These ground stations (GS) are connected to the aircraft via data links and provide Near Real Time (NRT) intelligence to commanders and their staffs at multiple levels of command.

5(Army Co-operation) Sqn operates the Sentinel system and is based at RAF Waddington. It is a joint sqn, commanded by an RAF Wing Commander. With over 150 RAF and 100 Army service personnel, 5(AC) Sqn is the largest flying sqn in the RAF. The aircraft are manned by two RAF Pilots and a Mission Commander, whilst the intelligence gathered by the aircraft is analysed by 2 on-board Image Analysts (IAs) for NRT effect. The on-board IAs are a mix of RAF and British Army Intelligence Corps SNCOs. The GS provide a longer term analytical capability to answer more in-depth questions and Requests for Information (RFIs). The GS are staffed by IAs from the Intelligence Corps and RAF, and supported by R Signals and REME technicians, both at RAF Waddington and the deployed operating base.

Sentinel was originally intended for conventional war-fighting operations, to track armoured formations and conduct strategic reconnaissance tasks. However, the capability has been shown to be flexible and has been adapted for use in a number of different roles by 5(Army Cooperation) Sqn. The Sentinel’s value has been proven in support of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, and in 2011 the capability provided vital Intelligence to enable coalition air assets to protect civilians from pro-Gaddafi Forces under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Sentinel is deployed on an enduring basis, providing International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with operational and tactical intelligence which is having a tangible effect on the success of coalition operations in Afghanistan.

As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010 it was announced that the SAR and GMTI capability Sentinel provides would be retained by the UK until the UK’s involvement in Op HERRICK had ceased. 5(AC) Sqn will continue to operate the Sentinel system until a suitable platform has been developed onto which this valuable capability can be transferred. Until that point, 5(AC) Sqn and Sentinel will remain at the forefront of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) for the RAF in support of operations in Afghanistan.

Source: Ministry of Defence (UK) News - 29 August 2012

Photo: The RAF (Royal Air Force) Sentinel R1 Aircraft (Photo by raytheon)


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