15 Minutes


In the late thirties, the RAF and Army pioneered close air support or air control in far-flung places like Aden, the Sudan and Palestine.

Combining innovative doctrine, technology like wireless telegraphy and air-delivered weapons what has jumped off the page is the response times.

In a RUSI Journal published in 1937, Air Commodore Portal noted

The use of the air bomb and machine gun in close support of troops on the ground has proved of utmost value in police operations on the Indian frontier. It was bought to a very high state of perfection in the recent operations in Palestine where small bodies of troops were often held up by fire of armed bands occupying strong positions. When this occurred, a W/T message was sent by the troops and so good was the organisation that at almost any point in Palestine a formation of bombers would arrive within 15 minutes of the origination of the message

15 minutes from call to release using aircraft as the Hawker Audax, Hart and Hardy hired trucks carrying a wireless set called a Rodex, various machine guns and freefall bombs, combined HQ’s and a system of codes for terrain features. They even had to use different coloured umbrellas for combat identification!

In an interesting parallel, the RAF also had to deal with restrictive and politically motivated rules of engagement.

In Afghanistan today we have supersonic jet aircraft, precision-guided munitions, live video targeting pods, GPS, ROVER terminals and reliable air to ground communications.

Undoubtedly, chalk and cheese in terms of versatility, precision and effect but also radically different in cost, training and maintenance overhead.

Today, we are technologically so advanced that pilots take years to train, aircraft take decades to deliver into service and costs are spiralling out of control.

Ask yourself how long is it between a call for close air support and an aircraft turning up.

How many minutes…