Slim Pickings in Iraq

Below is an extract from a recent MoD update on RAF operations over Iraq;

25 January: a Reaper was once again on patrol over northern Iraq on Sunday, providing top cover to the peshmerga as they consolidated their latest successful offensive against ISIL. One Hellfire was used to attack an armoured personnel carrier, then a further 2 missiles were used against 2 ISIL positions near by.

23 January: another Reaper flew on Friday morning to support the Iraqi army in the west of the country and observed ISIL fighters loading rockets into a truck. The vehicle was kept under close observation and then was successfully attacked with a Hellfire. A further attack was then conducted as the terrorists attempted to salvage equipment from the damaged truck.

22 January: an RAF Reaper, patrolling over northern Iraq, assisted Kurdish peshmerga who were under fire from a group of terrorists with a heavily armed pick-up truck. The vehicle was destroyed by a Hellfire missile.

21 January: early on Wednesday, a pair of Tornado GR4s flew in support of Kurdish troops, a Brimstone missile struck a heavily-armed ISIL truck and a Paveway IV guided bomb was used to target a terrorist observation post. Initial reports indicate both attacks were a success. On Wednesday evening, a Reaper provided further surveillance for the peshmerga, and in a series of engagements used Hellfires to attack a number terrorist vehicles and a fighting position.

20 January: RAF aircraft have been on hand to assist the latest Kurdish offensive operation; a Reaper was able to conduct a successful precision attack with a Hellfire missile on a terrorist group.

19 January: RAF Tornado GR4s were active in the early hours of Monday morning, flying armed reconnaissance in western Iraq, close to the Syrian border. An armoured personnel carrier was identified near Al Qaim and hit by a Brimstone missile. Continuing their patrol to the north east, the GR4s caught another group of ISIL vehicles attacked with a Paveway IV bomb. Meanwhile, British Army advisers continue to provide training and mentoring to the Iraqi security forces, particularly the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq.

18 January: Reapers continued to provide support to the Iraqi army on Sunday – in the afternoon a Hellfire was used to strike a heavy machine-gun position that threatened Iraqi soldiers nearby, then during the night a further 3 missiles were used to target a large terrorist group as they began an attack on an Iraqi position.

16 January: Friday saw another Tornado patrol supporting the Iraqi army in its operations near Bayji. Three positions were identified and were struck simultaneously with Paveways. A fourth Paveway was used shortly afterwards against a further ISIL position near by. That evening, an RAF Reaper, operating elsewhere in Iraq, identified another group of terrorists who had just attacked an Iraqi unit and conducted 2 successful attacks with Hellfire missiles.

13 January: a pair of Tornado GR4s flew a reconnaissance mission ahead of Kurdish forces as they continued to strengthen security in the area east of Mount Sinjar, from which ISIL – or Da’ish as they are known to the Iraqi and Syrian people they abuse – was driven out in December. The aircraft spotted the terrorists constructing a fortified position; a Paveway IV precision guided bomb successfully destroyed the vehicle they were using.

9 January: late at night, 2 RAF Tornado GR4s, on an armed reconnaissance mission in northern Iraq, were summoned to assist the Kurdish peshmerga. Da’ish terrorists, who have lost a significant amount of territory to the peshmerga recently, were attempting to mount a local attack on a Kurdish unit. The GR4s delivered 4 precision strikes using Paveway IV guided bombs to disrupt the attack.

8 January: in the evening a Reaper remotely piloted air system (RPAS) worked in close conjunction with other coalition aircraft to provide air support to Iraqi troops in Anbar province, western Iraq. The RAF Reaper provided targeting assistance to the fast jets in strikes against ISIL positions, and conducted a successful attack using its own Hellfire missiles.

6 January: At the request of the Iraqi government, British forces took further action against ISIL terrorist targets.

5 January: Reaper and Tornado missions were also flown in the morning. Tornados again patrolled the Al Qaim area, where they destroyed an ISIL excavator vehicle, used to construct fortified positions, with a Brimstone, while a Reaper, scouting ahead of Iraqi troops, spotted an armoured vehicle being moved by ISIL on a heavy equipment transporter. A Hellfire missile scored a direct hit on the armoured vehicle, another Hellfire destroyed the transporter itself, and a third missile struck an ISIL position nearby.

4 January: an RAF Reaper, working in support of Iraqi army units, identified an ISIL vehicle and engaged it with a Hellfire missile. Shortly afterwards, the Reaper discovered an ISIL position close by, and attacked this with another Hellfire.

2 January: in the early hours a RAF Tornado GR4 armed reconnaissance patrol located an ISIL armoured personnel carrier to the east of Al Qaim, and conducted a successful strike with a Brimstone missile. Later in the day, a coalition surveillance aircraft observed ISIL positions concealed within woods north-west of Ramadi and another Tornado mounted an attack with 2 Paveway IV precision guided bombs.

Just shy of a months worth of operations and the RAF has expended;

  • Hellfire; 20, from Reaper
  • Brimstone; 5, from Tornado
  • Paveway IV; 12, from Tornado

The target descriptions are equally interesting, a truck, a heavy machine gun position, an armoured personnel carrier and excavator. These targets fall definitely into the ‘tactical’ column rather than attacking ‘strategic’ targets.

What conclusions can we draw (if any) from the number of targets, types of target, launch platform and weapons expended?

  • Reaper is doing just as much of the heavy lifting as Tornado without the massive logistic effort involved with refuelling Tornado?
  • Paveway IV seems to be the referred option for those sorties flown by Tornado?
  • How many Reapers can we buy for a single F35?
  • The effect delivered (destroying an excavator or trucks in singles) are insignificant compared to the cost?
  • Air power used in this manner satisfies the ‘something must be done’ brigade but not much else?
  • Any others, none, the opposite of the above?


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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
January 31, 2015 5:16 pm

All of the listed and political willy waving.

This should not mean that UAV’s can now do the work of manned aircraft for close air support, but can complement if the threat to them is minimal.

January 31, 2015 5:37 pm

1) There are no strategic targets; at least not of any major significance

2) UAS are useful for CAS; who knew

3) Finding tactical targets to attack with aircraft is still difficult; again, who knew

4) Stupid people will use the fact that Reapers can be used in non-contested air space to provide CAS as justification to attack the F-35 programme

January 31, 2015 6:19 pm

What does a Hellfire and a Brimstone cost?
Could a Reaper be rigged with a 30mm cannon (as per Apache) or similar?

January 31, 2015 6:27 pm

The something must be done brigade comes in two parts:

The politicians if the Americans are doing some thing we must do it to and whatever it is we must do more of it than the French! Who cares what the ‘it’ is.

The RAF we must send manned aircraft to do something to justify the existence of manned aircraft as if they are not doing something NOW, we lose another Sqdn in SDSR.

In terms of the actual strategic need dropping an average of a single bomb a day makes zero difference. Spending equivalent money to support the Iraqis to do it themselves with second hand Sukhois or Hinds would make a bigger difference. Theoretically building up the Iraqi Air Force with a contract for F-16 which will not actually be delivered till 2017 makes no difference.

Britain in 1940 was grateful for 50 clapped out second hand ships that were immediately available, FDR did not say we had to sign a contract and for the equipment and then another one for the training package and the equipment might actually be delivered in 1944.

January 31, 2015 7:16 pm

oldreem, the recoil will probably tear the drone apart in short order or wear out the parts really fast, which is why the preference is for missiles or rockets.

January 31, 2015 7:24 pm

Reapers fly at altitude, guns would be a useless aerodynamic drag.

January 31, 2015 7:38 pm

As Hohhum states there are no strategic targets , rather than waste time and effort building a FOB such as we would to differentiate to the enemy between civilian and military they use the typical guerrilla tactic of using civilian Infrastructure with minimum change both as disguise and to save effort. Its going to be a long process to contain and retake ISIL controlled areas and they will never eliminate them entirely purely drive them into hiding.

The Other Chris
January 31, 2015 8:22 pm

Of interest would be how the “tactical” strikes were initiated: Genuine CAS (Peshmerga request?), ISR response, planned.

As for cost, Hellfire more expensive than Brimstone, but roll on MBDA’s Free Fall LMM and Viper Strike.

January 31, 2015 8:26 pm

Just out of interest what is the Smallest Precision Guided Weapon in use or in development?
Would it possible to make something as small as say a 81mm Mortar Round?

It’s seems a waste of either a Brimestone or a Hellfire on such small targets like a Technical?

The Other Chris
January 31, 2015 9:53 pm

FFLMM at 6kg is one of the smallest in development.

January 31, 2015 11:26 pm


A guided 81mm mortar round was developed some years ago. Called Merlin it used a MMW radar seeker. It was however never bought by the British Army, probable due to cost.

February 1, 2015 12:39 am

Merlin was an anti-tank weapon, it was huge and didn’t really offer anything an ATGM would do

February 1, 2015 2:41 am

Shock horror, what a surprise. Blind Freddy and his dead great grandmother always knew that air ‘power’ against ISIS was a waste of time and money, even as an exercise in tokenism.

In a post-retirement interview late last year Gen Richards (ex CDS) said:

“Military history is replete with examples of why air power alone will not achieve a satisfactory result. Air power does play a vital part in the formula of war and is a vital part of our armoury but, it is not sufficient.

We have to view this as a conventional campaign – ISIS have tanks, they have artillery, they’re holding ground – which means we must fight conventionally, and that means boots on the ground. I’m not arguing that Western boots should necessarily go in but our politicians, if they want to defeat and destroy ISIS in a specific timeframe, need to act, and quickly. Otherwise ISIS will continue to grow and the population will continue to suffer.”

February 1, 2015 2:44 am

Re smart munitions, the cost is in the smarts. The cost difference between 2 and 200kg of HE and its packaging is relatively small in comparison.

February 1, 2015 8:32 am

‘Stupid people will use the fact that Reapers can be used in non-contested air space to provide CAS as justification to attack the F-35 programme’

Or pointing out that not all missions need to be carried out by state of the art high end equipment.

February 1, 2015 8:52 am

Simon, found 4 that weigh 5-6 kg. Top trumps:

“Another laser homing weapon in the two-kilo category is the ATK Hatchet, a 60 mm munition that is 32 cm long. Evidently designed for launch from three-round tubes on the ScanEagle, it has four wrap-around wings and four tail surfaces that fold aft. It is also envisaged that Hatchet could be dispensed from a rotary launcher, allowing an MQ-9 to carry over 100” (!)

February 1, 2015 8:59 am

I’m not sure where all this talk of a/c alone doing the business alone has come from? It’s not now and no-one is pretending that it could or is.

February 1, 2015 9:10 am

I’m not quite sure why this is being viewed as a token effort. It’s simply the case that this isn’t a target rich environment and given the blurred line between civilian and military our ROE don’t let us blow the crap out of everything we see. ISR is by far the most important role in order to identify what is a target and this is something that Reaper does well in this environment.

This kind of whack a mole air power manages the threat and prevents large formations coalescing because then you can easily destroy them with overwhelming firepower. This then needs to be coordinated with ground forces (a la peshmerga) to make a difference in small local engagements which all builds up to a larger scale swing.

February 1, 2015 9:23 am

Bit of a duh is that. ISIS don’t seem to have much difficulty in concentrating in the hundreds or low thousands for specific actions. But it’s not WW1 so they are not shoulder to shoulder (or wheel to wheel), very inconvenient and most unsporting Biggles. The Peshmerga are about the only vaguely competent ground force operating against ISIS, but they are not vast and are concentrating on defending their own territory. I can’t see that changing to any significant extent.

February 1, 2015 10:40 am

Obsvr, that really isn’t true, the ISIS still works in small units, and part of the reason is what Hannay mentioned, that concentrating is a losing proposition for them because of the threat of air power. Same with all the tanks captured by them, they can’t use the M1s too openly lest they suddenly vanish.

As for tokenism, can you afford to spend more that a more serious effort will entitle? Both in lives and money?

February 1, 2015 11:41 am

I am afraid that whilst it is not a token effort it does look like one. The reason is obvious, firstly because of Ed Miliband’s sixth-form debating team cowardice/pacifism we are not allowed to bomb Syria which reduces the potential targets we can hit and secondly this is a by product of our much diminished ability to generate force- what you are seeing is a minor military power developing the level of effort that a minor military power can develop.

February 1, 2015 12:06 pm

The situation clearly needs boots on the ground, not necessarily western ones, but wars aren’t run by air power alone. Someone needs to pursue and destroy, hampering movement and picking off hardware just isn’t enough. Those guys have all the time in the world to sit and wait for us to pack up and go home.

In Libya for example a rather impressive coalition of air power didn’t overthrow Gaddafi, it simple negated his forces ability to prosecute their war against the rebels by curtailing movement, both on the ground and in the air, destroying it’s mobile weaponry, targeting communications, command and control centers etc.

It was a sufficiently large and effective rebel force that brought the end of the regime and the end of the civil war….well at least for a while before things began to disintegrate again. But the point remains that in 2011 it the force, such as it was got it’s hands dirty and took Libya mile by mile, street by street.

February 1, 2015 4:12 pm

What happened to the Paras etc that were supposed to be training anti-IS forces?

February 2, 2015 1:36 pm

“The only way you deal with Islamic State — these bloodthirsty, blood-drunken terrorists — is to kill them, keep on killing them, until you kill the last one, then you kill his pet goat.” – LTC Ralph Peters, US Army (Ret.)

Kind of hard to do that sniping from the sky. I think it might be time for leaflet drops warning people that towns held by Daesh are going to be bombed and that they should move out. Should be easy to pick out the Daesh folks leading the charge out of town, and, if they don’t, they’ll still be in town when we level it.

The word has to get out: If you tolerate these people who murder your neighbors, your town is going away.

Yes, I’ve lost my sense of humor after all the videos of executions that those creatures have posted.

The Other Chris
February 2, 2015 1:50 pm

[The Team discuss events on home soil]

Adam Leavitt: Fleury. Tell me what you whispered to Janet, in the briefing, to get her to stop crying about Fran, you know, before all this, before we even got airborne. What’d you say to her?

[Cut to Riyadh]

Aunt: Tell me, what did your grandfather whisper in your ear before he died?

[Cut back to the Team]

Adam Leavitt: You remember?
Ronald Fleury: I told her we were gonna kill ’em all.

[Cut back to Riyadh]

15-Year-Old Grandson: Don’t fear them, my child. We are going to kill them all.

– The Kingdom, 2007

February 2, 2015 3:10 pm

Phil, they were sent as a force protection element for the trainers

“What happened to the Paras etc that were supposed to be training anti-IS forces?”

I would be equally curious to know, but the likely reason for us not hearing anymore of them is that they have not had any action.

February 2, 2015 3:14 pm

Didn’t someone quote a source here that stated we have 3 (?)military staff on the ground? Are the Yorks and the 100 paras outside some defined zone? Kurdistan is still part of Iraq…

February 2, 2015 4:17 pm

@TOC – Daesh has already made those threats, e.g. they have threatened to behead President Obama in the White House. We have politicians talking about “degrading and eventually destroying” them. They have made their intentions clear. We either need to make OUR intentions clear and do the damn’ job or write off the Middle East. If we write off the Middle East, “eventually” there will be confirmation that the Israelis have “da bomb,” and there won’t be 1.6 billion Muslims in the world anymore.


[…] The UK has deployed an E-3D to be based in Cyprus to help coordinate coalition aircraft. UK RAF deploys AWACS against Islamic State – IHS Jane's 360 "RAF sources" have also reportedly told Janes that the UK Govt is considering deploying 'additional ISTAR assets' within the next few weeks which'll probably be Sentinel. TD has a good article about UK weapons releases during January in Iraq, the results are that Reaper is doing as much as Tornado is in theatre which isn't – IMO – surprising. Slim Pickings in Iraq – Think Defence […]

February 3, 2015 6:32 am

It’s fairly clear that ISIS were operating in some strength in Kobane, just because the pics only show groups of nor more that a couple of dozen utes, say 120 men max, doesn’t mean they won’t concentrate.

Ground forces are need to bring ISIS to battle where they can be out-fought and destroyed. It’s a straight forward tactical problem. The tricky bit is preventing them withdrawing to built up areas, where western military superiority (tactical, operational and technological) can be reduced.

ISIS might disappear up their own backsides in a few years time without expanding further, but the prospect of this isn’t looking too good at present and the effects of their continuing g existence even for a few years is clearly well short of desirable.

The only regional forces likely to have any possibility of military success against them are either Turkey (a NATO member, which introduces all sorts of complications) and the Iranian Republican Guard, and them getting loose outside Iran would be another issue, the Israelis will rush screaming to their mates in Congress not to mention Saudi mega sense of humour failure. That leaves Jordan and I’m not sure they are as good as they were 50 years ago.

I’d say destroying ISIS ASAP is well worth the lives of a few hundred western soldiers.

February 3, 2015 8:17 am

Re: “The tricky bit is preventing them withdrawing to built up areas, ”

Kettling tactics,a la the French in Algeria. Conscripts/ local forces cut up the area to manageable pieces, air and air mobile cleanse them one by one. If not all the man power is gotten rid of, at least they will be sans their heavy kit in further encounters.

February 4, 2015 10:33 am


I’m afraid that you are severely over estimating the threat from IS (or Daesh as they’re known around here). Parts of the middle east may fall eventually, but it will be because of economics and local politics and not IS or there like.

The only thing we (that is Europeans anyway) are frightened of is our native volunteers returning to commit terrorism on our own soil.

The Other Chris
February 4, 2015 11:19 am

Always thought the derogatory form was Daeshi?

February 4, 2015 1:00 pm

Would be handy to have 3-4x AC-130s flying orbits over Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, picking off low-value targets with cannon.

February 4, 2015 1:53 pm

Sadly the AC-130’s are another US program in a mess.

As usual I can only thank Lockheed for making the British arms industry look competent and prompt. No easy task.

Oh well, at least it’s getting the big gun back.

February 4, 2015 2:10 pm


There would be no need to”buy back” two Spookies with their 105mm, if between them and this new wonder bird being tested,

“In November 2012, AC-130Ws dropped the GPS-guided SDBs on targets in Afghanistan for the first time ever, according an official briefing. Marine Corps KC-130J Harvest Hawk gunships have already fired Hellfires and Griffins in combat, too.

But the huge gun is significantly cheaper than any of these guided weapons. And the shells contain far less explosives, making them better suited to densely populated areas full of civilians.”

…they had actually modified the old fleet’s howitzers to fire the adapted mortar bomb, or rather the105mm modified more than the round. V good test results and the fleet could have been life a extended by half a decade for a nickle (no dime required) because of the much lessened stresses on the airframes that have done a fair bit in their lives.

Jeremy M H
February 4, 2015 3:35 pm

Honestly the pentagon needs to classify some of these operational testing reports simply based on the fact that the media never seems to understand them. The thing is 100 hours into testing, should have been 300 hours into testing both of which are likely really small numbers compared to the overall test plan. This is why you test things after all.

February 4, 2015 5:19 pm

Not the point, though, is it?

The point is if your fleet is (and can be maintained) at the planned strength, so that (other budget lines permitting) you can maintain readiness?