Dangerous Afghan skies

2006-09-04

in Bombs and rockets, Canada, Politics, Security

I was talking with Edwina today about the possibility that the British Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan recently was shot down by a FIM-92 Stinger missile, as Taliban representatives claimed. Fourteen British airmen were killed in the crash: the largest single day loss of British military personnel since the Falklands War. Given the ongoing presence of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and the famous provision of about 500 of these surface-to-air missiles to the Mujaheddin by the CIA during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it is a question with contemporary relevance for Canadians.

Under construction since 1981 by the Raytheon Corporation (which also makes the washers and dryers used in residences at the University of British Columbia), the Stinger missile has a range of about 4800 metres and a maximum altitude of about 3800 – well below the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft. The Stinger seeks targets using an infrared homing system and is propelled using a two-stage chemical rocket. The homing system is thus vulnerable to flares used as decoy heat signatures, as well as to the reduction of an aircraft’s thermal profile through mechanisms like the internally mounted turbofan engines on vehicles like the B-2 Spirit Bomber, not that the Canadian Forces will or should get any of those.

Most of the reporting on the crash says that it was the result of a technical fault. This is the position that has been taken officially by NATO and the RAF, while the Taliban has claimed that it shot the plane down. There were Taliban fighters in the area, as evidenced by the rapidity with which the British Special Air Service (SAS) commandos were dispatched to destroy any secret electronic equipment that survived the malfunction and subsequent crash. Of course, it would be especially embarrassing to have a £100 million plane shot down and fourteen British soldiers killed by a $26,000 missile that was given to your enemies by the country with whom the Blair government is so loyally and controversially allied. As with the earlier discussion on conspiracy theories, we are left with little means for analyzing the official reports aside from our own intuition about which sources are trustworthy and which explanations are credible.

Whether the crash was an accident (as seems most plausible) or the result of enemy action, the dangers of continued military operations in Afghanistan are demonstrated. Even with complete air superiority, powerful allies, and all the other advantages of being in a superpower coalition, Canadian, British, and American soldiers will continue to die in Afghanistan until such a time as we decide to leave that country to the government and warlords who effectively control it today.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 4, 2006 at 4:35 pm
B September 4, 2006 at 5:05 pm

“There were Taliban fighters in the area, as evidenced by the rapidity with which the British Special Air Service (SAS) commandos were dispatched to destroy any secret electronic equipment that survived the malfunction and subsequent crash.”

It’s it more likely that the SAS was looking for survivors. I mean, what is the Taliban going to do with advanced electronics. You could say “sell them to the Chinese,” but I suspect the Chinese have rather more effective ways of getting their hands on US/UK technology – just as the US and UK have means of getting hold of theirs.

B September 4, 2006 at 5:05 pm

*Isn’t it more likely…

Anon September 4, 2006 at 5:57 pm
Milan November 13, 2006 at 1:39 am
. November 9, 2007 at 12:50 pm

New safety fears for RAF Nimrods
By Paul Adams
Defence correspondent, BBC News

“Fresh fears have arisen about the safety of an ageing model of RAF reconnaissance plane, following an incident in southern Afghanistan.

On Monday a Nimrod surveillance aircraft sent out a mayday call after crew members spotted fuel spraying into an empty bomb bay.

The crew’s log, leaked to the BBC, reported the bomb bay doors “to be wet with fuel”. The aircraft landed safely.

The MoD says a full investigation into the incident is being carried out.”

. November 9, 2007 at 12:52 pm

“The aircraft, which entered service in the 1960s, was designed to hunt Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

Now, a decade after it should have been replaced, it is being asked to conduct surveillance missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is flying longer hours in harsher conditions than ever before. And John Blakeley, a retired senior RAF engineer, says the resources need to keep it flying safely simply are not there.”

. December 4, 2007 at 11:07 am

Fuel leak blamed for Nimrod crash

In UK

An RAF crash in Afghanistan which killed 14 people was probably caused by a fuel leak, an inquiry finds.

. May 23, 2008 at 10:16 am

Nimrods ‘should be grounded’

The RAF’s entire Nimrod fleet has “never been airworthy”, a coroner says at an inquest into 14 servicemen’s deaths.

. February 11, 2009 at 10:18 am

£1bn ‘spy jets’ join RAF squadron

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

“Spy planes” that could help combat roadside bombs from seven-and-a-half miles above the ground have just entered squadron service after successful trials in Afghanistan. How effective would they be in fighting the Taleban and saving lives?

At almost £1bn for five, the Sentinel R1 jet does not come cheap, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) hopes its latest “eye in the sky” will have a real impact.

The twin-engined plane carries some of the world’s most sophisticated radar equipment, allowing it to detect and track enemy movement over huge areas.

. September 2, 2009 at 3:15 pm

But with the diminished volume, U.K. Nimrod MRA-4s, the British counterpart to the Orion, can more than cover one or two Russian submarines. Meanwhile, the United States appears to have shifted responsibility for tracking and stalking Russian subs almost completely to its own attack submarine force. With Russian boomers still occasionally parking dozens of nuclear warheads off the eastern seaboard, the United States will never completely pass off that responsibility. However, under the cold surface of the Barents Sea, things have changed little in the last 15 years. It has become much quieter, but U.S. attack submarines still lurk and stalk Russian boomers as they conduct strategic deterrence patrols.

Though the days of the P-3C Orion are coming to a close, their capabilities are still essential. The U.S. Navy is set to buy more than 100 new P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft from Boeing to replace the aging Orions, and hopes to have at least 40 deployable at any one time, with the first squadron operational in the next five years. Airborne assets are still an essential component of ASW. But the volume simply is not there in the North Atlantic to warrant a footprint in Iceland. In fact, the closest Orion base in the United States, NAS Brunswick in Maine, will be closed by 2011 and its assets transferred to NAS Jacksonville in Florida. Even though Canada maintains its own CP-140 Auroras (their designation for the P-3) at Canadian Forces Base Greenwood in Nova Scotia, this makes clear in no unequivocal terms what the United States thinks of the threat of a massive assault from the Russian navy. Its closest permanently stationed airborne ASW assets will be in New Jersey.

. September 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Afghanistan: Aviation Crashes in Afghanistan
July 20, 2009

The crash of a British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter jet is the latest in a series of aircraft crashes in Afghanistan. Helicopters in particular are especially key for operations there, and the loss of two civilian-operated helicopters and significant losses of life in the last week raise questions about the status and availability of rotary-wing fleets in the country.

. October 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

Families of Nimrod crash victims receive compensation

Several relatives claiming compensation after 14 servicemen were killed in a Nimrod plane explosion in Afghanistan have received payouts, the MoD says.

The amount of money paid was not disclosed but was paid over the past few weeks and months.

The payout came two years after the families launched a legal action.

Earlier reports that all cases had been settled have since been denied, with one law firm saying it still has claims outstanding, which the MoD confirmed.

In most cases several family members are making a claim, and in some families not all relatives have settled with the MoD. Cases relating to three servicemen have yet to be concluded.

Milan November 8, 2010 at 9:29 am

Page 267 of the hardcover version of Richard Aldrich’s GCHQ: The Uncensored Story Of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency begins a lengthy discussion of the origin and purpose of the British Nimrod R1 program. Apparently, the major purposes of the planes are signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT).

Milan November 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Further discussion of this incident is in: Aldrich, Richard. GCHQ: The Uncensored Story Of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency. p.536 (hardcover)

Aldrich also describes how in 2008 “RAF aircraft with similar [cell phone interception] equipment began circling over British cities searching for returned Afghan fighters. Their brief was to seek out suspects using ‘voice prints’ of fighters with British accents that had been collected by the Nimrods from Taliban battlefield communications.”

Aldrich describes the use of small aircraft to collect cellphone traffic from entire cities as a technique used since 1993. (p.538)

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