Shot last week, these clips show the cockpit view, munitions being directed onto targets, and jets landing, taking off and preparing for sorties. The short videos show the operational role of the Harrier in support of the ground troops fighting pitched battles against a determined foe.
The Joint Force Harrier Detachment at Kandahar airfield was deployed to Afghanistan in September 2004 to provide assistance for the Afghan elections the following month. They have been there ever since and recently the six GR7As were supplemented by a seventh in support of democratic governance and bringing stability to the region.
The Detachment has three main roles – Close Air Support (CAS), reconnaissance and planned operations against enemy forces in support of the Afghanistan Government-backed International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom, of which Operation Herrick is the UK component.
"The troops on the ground are incredibly important and are doing a fantastic job and their success is reliant upon support from the air," said RAF spokesman Wing Commander Trevor Field. "These Harrier pilots coming in fast and low and making a real difference to the ground battlespace."
The Command of the JFH Detachment at Kandahar is now passing to 800 Naval Air Squadron, also based at RAF Cottesmore and part of No. 904 Expeditionary Air Wing, which is the home of the JFH and all UK Harriers. The Harriers themselves remain in theatre but aircrews and the overall command are exchanged after tours lasting months. The crews are regularly rotated between RAF and RN. After a gruelling four and a half month tour, IV AC (Army Co-operation) Squadron RAF, are handing over and preparing to return to the UK.
The MoD has released statistics on the sharply rising numbers of rockets and bombs being deployed by UK Harriers, which are regularly called on by ground troops to target Taleban fighters, their strongholds and to provide protection to coalition forces.
Use of the ground-attacking CRV-7 rocket rose from 58 in July to 426 in September. CRV-7 is a multiple-function rocket weapon fired from an underwing-mounted launcher. Each launcher has 19 rockets which are fired in a ripple-effect at the target. The rockets are fitted with a high-explosive, semi-armour-piercing warhead for penetrating lightly-protected installations, or a kinetic warhead for destroying armoured targets.
The use of Enhanced Paveway 2 - a precision 2,000lb laser-guided bomb for penetrating hardened targets - rose from nil to 29 over the same period. The bomb has a warhead able to penetrate reinforced concrete ground targets. The target co-ordinates can be loaded into the weapon by aircrew prior to release. Using GPS it then travels fully autonomously day or night to the target irrespective of cloud or smoke.
The dropping of freefall or retarded 500lb bombs rose from 2 to 28 and its 1,000lb equivalent, both of which can be set to explode as an airburst, on impact or post impact, rose from nil in July to 10 in September.
Overall the theatre total for munitions deployed on planned operations and Close Air Support to ground forces rose from 179 to 539. Significantly, the percentage of total munitions dropped in theatre by the UK Harrier GR7A rose from 34% to 91%.
Hundreds of life-saving missions in support of British and Coalition Forces have been flown. RAF Wg Cdr Ian Duguid, 39, Officer Commanding 4 Sqn, said:
"I have been flying for 14 years and nothing has compared with this for the intensity of operations undertaken. The troops on the ground are in a very hostile environment and facing a Taleban determined to win and not give any ground. This has reflected in the intensity of our support operations.
"During Op Medusa we were operating against up to 12 targets a day. What’s made it really special is that those same soldiers when they came back actually made a point of visiting the Harrier detachment and thanking us for saving their lives. When we’re above them and talking to them on the ground, you can really hear the pressure they’re under below us."
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