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Friday, 16 April, 1999, 10:18 GMT
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: Special Report
The RAF, Royal Navy and even Army personnel are all on the front line.

It is from the southern Italian town of Gioia del Colle, near Bari on the heel of Italy, that 12 RAF Harrier GR7 jets fly out on the most dangerous of Nato missions in operation Allied Force.

The RAF force also includes:

  • 3 Tristar and 3 VC10 tanker support based at Ancona, Italy
  • 8 Tornado GR1s and 4 x VC10 tanker support based at RAF Bruggen, Germany and
  • 3 E-3D Sentries based at Aviano, Italy

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.

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 Fighter Squadron, whose base is at RAF Wittering, fly the latest versions of the plane. The Harriers 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.

harrier loading
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 - reconnaisance aircraft with little armament that rely on high speed, altitude and manoeuvrability to avoid confrontation.


Nato's military involvement comes from 14 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.

A trolley of sidewinders wait to be loaded
Three 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.

The RAF is also contributing three '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 came from cruise missiles aimed at knocking out Serbia's air defences and again Britain's forces played 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.

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, using satellite navigation to skim low over land and sea to avoid enemy radar.

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.

Also the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible with HMS Sheffield and RFA Fort Austin is stationed in the Ionian Sea, providing more airpower from the Harriers on board.

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.

HMS Invincible
HMS Invincible bolsters the Royal Navy's presence
The former Parachute Regiment officer, who is said to loathe the media tag, 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.

British army involvement also includes a contribution of 3020 personnel to the Nato Kosovo peacekeeping force based in Macedonia.
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See also:

25 Mar 99 |  UK
Allied raids under way
23 Mar 99 |  Kosovo
Analysis: The task facing Nato
23 Mar 99 |  UK Politics
UK 'prepared to act' over Kosovo
13 Oct 98 |  Kosovo
Military facts and figures
23 Mar 99 |  Europe
Serbs facing air strikes
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