The Royal Air Force has deployed a Sentinel surveillance aircraft to an air base in Africa in support of French military operations in Mali.
The UK Ministry of Defence said the aircraft from No 5 Army Cooperation Squadron deployed from RAF Waddington on Friday.
No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron is manned by both Army and RAF personnel who operate the ASTOR radar surveillance system and fly the Sentinel R1 aircraft.
“As the Prime Minister has made clear, the UK supports France’s decision to provide military support to the Malian Government. The National Security Council agreed on Tuesday to look at further French requests for additional logistical and surveillance support for this operation over and above our C-17 commitment,” said Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond.
“Following discussions with the French, we have now decided to deploy Sentinel, a surveillance capability that has proved its worth in Libya and on an ongoing basis for counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
“We have also agreed to continue to make available a C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft which has already provided important logistical support over recent days.”
The United Kingdom flew the first C-17 into Mali’s capital Bamako on January 14. The aircraft delivered equipment that included three French army VAB armoured personnel carriers. Two UK C-17s are available to provide non-combat support – otherwise France would have to charter similar aircraft if it wants similar airlift capacity. (France has C-160 Transall and C-130H Hercules transports for the Mali mission.) A second RAF C-17 left Paris for Mali on January 15.
Officer Commanding No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, Wing Commander Al Marshall, said that, “Sentinel is deploying to provide a unique intelligence capability in support of French operations within Mali. We look forward to working closely with our French allies, building upon the working relationships established during training and previous operations such as Op Ellamy over Libya in 2011.”
The Sentinel R1 aircraft is a modified Bombardier Global Express business jet fitted with a synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator (GMTI). The RAF has five Sentinels in service.