RAF Marham’s image experts: A decade spent saving lives

They helped to save countless civilian and military lives during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and played a major role in the Libyan conflict last year.

They also helped police in their hunt for gunman Raoul Moat in July 2010 as well as assessing the damage caused during the floods in Cornwall a few months later.

Now personnel from the RAF's Tactical Imagery-Intelligence wing, based at RAF Marham, are gearing up to doff their caps to their unit reaching its 10th anniversary.

The Tactical Imagery-Intelligence Wing (TIW) was formed in April 2002 from the then Marham-based II (AC), XIII and 39 Squadron Reconnaissance Intelligence Centres.

Wing Commander Andy Hetterley, officer commanding TIW, said: 'We took the units that were directly associated with individual squadrons and brought them together into one collective unit which meant our ways of working, standards, processes and tactics were brought under one roof.

'Before you'd have different aircraft, different sensors and different ways of working and it was felt in this digital age it made far more sense to bring everyone under one roof.

'Our job in theatre, whether that has been in Iraq, Afghanistan or, more recently, in Libya, has always been about saving lives and that's not just the lives of our own personnel but also civilian lives – whether that is identifying collateral damage concerns, finding out who is present around a target area or looking for improvised explosive devices.'

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He added: 'We have numerous successes in all three theatres in all of the above.'

To start with, the unit was considered to be part of tactical reconnaissance but as technology and techniques have evolved, the role of the TIW has changed to cover a broad range of intelligence, surveillance, target-acquisition and reconnaissance tasks.

Wing Cmdr Hetterley continued: 'You can't really put a number on the lives we have saved in the last 10 years.

'If we do our job completely, you won't see the results because there would be no news.

'For us, no news is good news because you know there hasn't been an atrocity, a civilian death or an IED going off.'

He added: 'I believe we will be at the heart of the force come 2020 because there is only one of us but we will continue to match the development of the RAF in terms of capability.'

SAC James Thompson has been one of the unit's intelligence analysts involved in operations in Afghanistan and Libya.

He said: 'Nowhere is there a job like this because it's not an everyday job but I am really proud of what I do.

'To have been part of Op Ellamy was incredible and I know we saved many civilian lives.

'It was such a surreal experience because we worked 24/7 and even when we got the chance to get some sleep, we would be woken up if needed because that's how important the work we were doing was.'

He added: 'For every news report you hear that an IED has gone off and someone has been killed, we have probably saved dozens of others.'

david.blackmore@archant.co.uk

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