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October 2010

The main aim for the month was night flying for medium and low level work-ups with a small amount of day flying focused on the completion of the outstanding pairs work-ups, Operational Low Flying and potentially to begin 4-ship lead work-ups prior to the Tactical Leadership Training deployment to RAF Kinloss in November 2009.

The Sqn officers held a Dining In Night at the George Hotel, Stamford on 9 October to say farewell to a number of departing officers and also to host a number of representatives of units affiliated to the Sqn including the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, No 4 Army Air Corps and First Queens Dragoon Guards (affiliated in February 2009 in recognition of the support provided by the Sqn to Land Forces based in Helmand province during the winter).

On 14 October, Daily Mail Online published an article reflecting material that had been previously released to the media following briefings at MOD in September, which included participation by the CO, Wg Cdr Smyth. The article is summarised as follows:

RAF Pilot’s skill saves innocent Afghan villagers from air strike The RAF has released previously classified video footage from a Harrier strike jet over Afghanistan showing the pilot ‘steering’ a laser-guided bomb in mid-flight away from a crowd of villagers who suddenly appear next to his target. The pilot had dropped the 500lb Paveway IV bomb from thousands of feet above Helmand Province, and was tracking the aiming point to follow a moving car which contained a ‘high value’ Taliban leader. But with the bomb plunging towards the ground and set to hit the car in less than 20 seconds, the pilot watched in horror as his thermal-imaging targeting screen showed the vehicle driving into a village and stopping next to a cluster of local civilians – who show up clearly as small white ‘hot’ shapes – seemingly to ask directions.  The previously unreleased footage shows a bomb dropped from the aircraft heading for a Taliban commander in a vehicle which stops next to a civilian compound – the civilians can be seen to the left of the Harrier’s sights. ? The Harrier pilot, serving with IV(AC) Squadron, held a hurried conversation with ground controllers and took the split-second decision to break off the attack. With just moments to go before the bomb’s impact it was too late to disarm the warhead, but he successfully shifted the laser aiming point – which guides the bomb – away into a nearby field, just far enough away to save the lives of the civilians. They never knew what a narrow escape they had had, as the massive explosion rocked the village, but left them all alive. The Paveway IV uses a special seeker in its nose cone to steer itself towards the spot of laser energy on the ground, which is aimed by the pilot thousands of feet overhead. In this recent attack, the pilot showed immense skill, because shifting the aim point too fast can cause the falling bomb to break contact with the laser spot and lose all guidance. But moving the aim point too slowly would have meant the bomb exploding within lethal range of the crowd of civilians. The quick-thinking RAF officer is seen to move the bomb into a safe area of desert away from the civilian compound and its inhabitants. The pilot, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘One task for fast jet pilots in Afghanistan is to conduct targeted strike operations against confirmed Taliban commanders. In this instance I found and tracked the target and had deployed my weapon. However, as it was flying to the target I saw the vehicle stop amongst civilians. ‘Every pilot dreads the prospect of inadvertently causing harm to any innocent civilian – so I knew I had to act immediately. The Paveway IV smart bomb is amazingly accurate and incredibly flexible.’ The Harrier’s bomb is seen exploding in a safe area of desert – the quick-thinking and skill of the RAF pilot managed to avoid killing several innocent Afghan civilians ‘I can control it whilst it is still in flight – so I used my onboard laser to guide the bomb into a safe area of open desert. It’s a shame I couldn’t prosecute the target as we had planned, but it was much better to let him go free this time than risk killing innocent civilians. In any case, this Taliban commander didn’t get away for long – we continued to track him and he was successfully attacked a couple of days later when the moment was right.’ The Paveway IV, the latest addition to the RAF’s arsenal of increasingly-sophisticated precision bombs, can be guided by a combination of GPS satellite signals and laser targeting. The pilot can pre-programme target locations before take-off, or else upload targeting data during the sortie or guide the bomb himself using the laser pod. Civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes have become a fiercely controversial issue in Afghanistan, where thousands of ordinary members of the public are caught up in the fighting each year, and killed or maimed. The allies insist they are often wrongly blamed for deaths caused by Taliban weapons, but the RAF remains anxious to show that it goes to great lengths to stop its bombs and rockets from killing civilians. Wing Commander Harv Smyth, DFC, Officer Commanding IV Squadron, said: ‘This shows there is more to being a pilot than just flying the aircraft and dropping bombs. ‘It is all about having a range of options and making the right decision at the right time’. ? ? The pictures above show a Paveway IV laser guided bomb beneath a Harrier GR9 from IV Squadron, RAF Cottesmore whilst in Helmand, Afghanistan.

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