On the frontline with RAF Marham’s 31 Squadron in Afghanistan
Norfolk-base's personnel in scour the desert for Improvised Explosive Devices
As all eyes are on the dramatic events in the Middle East this week, personnel from a squadron based at RAF Marham are carrying on with their job in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick- a vital role in protecting ground troops.
Members of 31 Squadron have been in the country since July for their latest tour which sees them scouring the ground for signs of the deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) which kill and injure troops and civilians.
Alongside their pre-deployment training in weapons, treating major injuries and learning mroe about IEDs - squadron personnel were also given an introduction into the type of wildlife they may come across during the tour - including scorpions and sand spiders - and how to deal with them.
Radio reporter Hannah Griffiths, of King's Lynn's KL.FM, is spending a week with 31 Squadron to get an inside look at life in the desert for Marham personnel and to speak to crews on the front line.
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The squadron uses hi-tech Raptor reconnaisance pods on their Tornado jets to show tell-tale signs of ground disturbance that could indicate where IEDs have been hidden by enemy forces.
'We are looking for IEDs and we have an excellent platform for counter-IED using both our Raptor reconnaisance pod and the Litening III. We can find and, more importantly, let the guys in the ground know of any changes in the state of the roads that are commonly used by our forces and they can go and exploit those hopefully and get rid of the IEDs before they go bang,' said Flt Lt Shane Rutherford, a navigator with the squadron.
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Speaking about the daily routine in Afghanistan, Flt Lt Rutherford said each morning started with a detailed briefing.
'We have a met brief where we are given an idea of the weather around Afghanistan and, more importantly, any diversions we might have to use; we will be given an intelligence brief as to what has been going on on the ground recently. We will also be given a brief about the state of the aircraft and what weapons we have got on board for the day,' he said.
He said the flight would split duties and the lead checked all the maps and mission data for the day while the pilots looked after the 'domestics', including take-off speed depending on the temperature and where they are going to be refuelled and at what time.
'The wizzos, or navigators, will look at the mission data and what we have been tasked to do for the day and they will make a plan as to what order they want to do that and what sort of air space they are going to require and what we might be called on to do,' he said.
Pilot Flt Lt Matt Barker said before he takes to the air he carries out a 'walk-round' check of his aircraft and the weapons it has on board.
'I do what is called a last chance walk around check and am just checking all the probes are clear, all the pins are out of everything that needs to be serviceable, the undercarriage is looking good and there are no leaks and nothing I don't expect,' he said.
Once in the cockpit and making all the initial checks, he is strapped into the aircraft and the auxiliary power unit is started to allow more pre-take off checks and to provide enough power to start the engines.
'We will start one of the engines and get all the hydraulics on-line and the other electrical systems working. Once we have done that we will start the second engine and then really we are into the last chance checks,' he added.
Engineers will walk around the airframe checking for leaks and making sure everything is as it should be.
'Once we are happy with that we will check-in with our wingman and ops over in the squadron and once they are content and everything is good we will taxi out.'
The squadron will remain in Afghanistan until October when personnel are due to return to RAF Marham.