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Sunday, April 4, 1999 Published at 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK


Harriers thwarted again

Harrier GR7: Still firmly rooted to the ground

RAF Harriers have abandoned their latest mission against Serb targets after technical problems on a support plane.

Kosovo: Special Report
The aborted attempt has meant growing frustration for British pilots flying out of the Gioia del Colle base in Italy.

The Harrier GR7s, which took off at about midnight GMT, were airborne for just minutes before they were recalled without even crossing the Yugoslav border.

"The frustration continues," Group Captain Ian Travers Smith said.

[ image: The Harriers have had only two successful missions so far]
The Harriers have had only two successful missions so far
"Because of problems with assets in the other parts of the package, to go on with the mission would have put the other aircraft in the package at risk."

But he said it was unfortunate the mission was recalled, as weather conditions may have been right for the pilots to effectively target Serb units.

"The boys are definitely a bit miffed. I think you can imagine their frustration," he said.

At Sunday's Ministry of Defence briefing Air Marshal Sir John Day said improving weather in the Balkans would help them intensify the ongoing air strikes.

'Substantial attacks'

He said: "Nato carried out a substantial series of attacks last night. This was in spite of the fact that the continuing poor weather disrupted the overall air effort.

"And a technical difficulty with a support aircraft led to the cancellation of part of Nato's planned bombing missions."

[ image: An RAF weatherman assesses the day's forecast]
An RAF weatherman assesses the day's forecast
But he added: "The weather in the operational area is at last improving and we confidently expect that the full weight of Nato's air power will be brought to bear over the next few days.''

Since the air strikes began on 25 March, the Harriers at the base have carried out just two successful missions, and this is the fifth consecutive night that the Harrier pilots have had their flights put on hold.

Tons of extra weapons were delivered to the base on Saturday, but have still not been put to use.

Military concerns over the number of aborted Nato missions have reportedly prompted the UK to send unmanned reconnaissance drones to the area.

The Phoenix UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), came into service with the Army in November last year after being developed at a cost of £300m by Marconi.

Pilots 'keeping occupied'

They will fly over the Kosovo battlefields to provide ''real time'' video pictures of targets.

In the meantime, the pilots at the base are keeping occupied with reading and writing home, as well as enjoying the contents of Easter packages sent by relatives.

An Easter service was held at the base on Sunday by Padre Jonathan Chaffey. He has been with the squadron on previous trips abroad, including their posting to the Gulf.

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