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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 10:48 GMT


UK

Britain's best in Kosovo action



Britain's top guns are taking part in dangerous sorties over Kosovo as Nato air strikes bombard President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslav Republic.

Kosovo Section
The RAF, Royal Navy and even Army personnel are all on the front line.

It is from the southern Italian town of Gioia de Colle, near Bari on the heel of Italy, that eight RAF Harrier GR7 jets fly out on the most dangerous of Nato missions in operation Deliberate Forge.

The toughest tasks

Britain's best face the toughest tasks against the Slobodan Milosevic's forces because of their aircraft, their firepower and their skill.


[ image:  ]
The Harrier GR7 is a complex aircraft to handle, but it is also highly capable and so only the most highly rated pilots fly for Nato.

Having proved itself in Bosnia, Nato knows the plane is suited to the terrain. But it is also a versatile and highly effective fighter/bomber.

The personnel from No 1 Squadron, whose base is at RAF Wittering, fly the latest version of the plane. They are equipped with the most up to date night vision systems, making the GR7 day/night capable.

They carry awesome firepower including up to 16 Mk 82 or six Mk 83 bombs, six cluster bombs, four Maverick ASMs, or 10 rocket pods on seven wing stations.


[ image: The Harrier uses the same laser guided bombing system as was used in Iraq]
The Harrier uses the same laser guided bombing system as was used in Iraq
It also uses the same precision guided weapons systems that Tornadoes have been using in Iraq - and which have been attaining an impressive direct hit rate of 80%.

Even allowing for troublesome weather conditions which may disrupt the laser-guided bombs, this is still a formidable threat to President Milosevic's forces.

Also based in Gioia del Colle are the Canberra PR9s of No 39 Squadron - bombers with little armament that rely on high speed, altitude and maneuverability to avoid confrontation.

Support...

Nato's military involvement comes from a 13 countries united in their condemnation of Serb atrocities.

But Britain is contributing in a support role and on land and sea as well as on the front line in the air.

Two Tristar tanker/transports fly out of Ancona, mid-way down the eastern coast of Italy, providing important mid-air refuelling to Nato's aircraft, giving them more range and therefore more tactical options.


[ image: A trolley of sidewinders wait to be loaded]
A trolley of sidewinders wait to be loaded
The RAF is also contributing 'eyes in the sky' with the Sentry AEW1s of Nos 8 and 23 Squadrons - enhancing Nato's Airborne Early Warning capability.

... and sea

The first wave of air strikes would come from cruise missiles aimed at knocking out Serbia's air defences and again Britain's forces are likely to play their part.

HMS Splendid, a nuclear-powered submarine loaded with the latest Tomahawk missiles and which was only launched last year, has used its missiles - the first time the Royal Navy has used the Tomahawk in anger.


[ image: The Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched from HMS Splendid]
The Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched from HMS Splendid
The missile can fly at up to 700mph, skimming low over land and sea to avoid radar, using satellite navigation.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said each missile carries a single warhead of up to 454 kilograms, with a range of 714 miles to an accuracy of 30 feet.

HMS Iron Duke is also in the Adriatic as part of Nato's standing force.

Tough looking, tough acting

If Nato ground troops have to go in to Kosovo to implement a peace deal, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Jackson may have to live up to the name of Britain's toughest soldier.


[ image: Canberra PR9 - high speed and high altitude bomber]
Canberra PR9 - high speed and high altitude bomber
The former Parachute Regiment officer, who is said to loathe the nick-name, commands Nato's ACE Rapid Reaction Corps, a post he has held since 1997. He has also served his country in Northern Ireland, Berlin and with the Intelligence Corps.

Leading troops into Kosovo could be fraught with difficulties and diplomacy.

But Lieutenant-General Jackson has a depth of experience in the Balkans to draw on - he commanded the UN implementation force in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1995 and 1996.





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23 Mar 99 | Europe
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