No-fly zones explained
Group Captain Geoff Booth, who took part in enforcing the no-fly zone (NFZ) over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s, outlines what is needed of an aircrew during this kind of operation.
”There are never going to be two similar operations,” explains Booth, “so you need to analyse the situation to develop a plan; the key thing is that you are basically policing someone else's airspace without their permission.
The questions are: what is the threat? how big is the area? why are you doing this – i.e. what do you stop?
This will almost certainly be a 24/7 operation, so it will require lots of resources. The question you then need to ask yourself is: what resources do you need versus what resources have you got?
There’s a requirement for surveillance; intelligence; tactical aircraft for air-to-air and possibly air-to-ground missions; bases which may include aircraft carriers; command and control; air-to-air refuelling (this is a "force multiplier" as it allows tactical aircraft to stay on task for much longer); commander's guidance and clear rules of engagement.”
What’s a typical routine?
This will be driven by when the contingent or squadron is on the Air Tasking Order (this is the operational flying programme). It also depends on capability, i.e. whether this is an operation for day only, day/night, clear weather, all weather. In other words, and for many missions, aircrew can be tasked at any time of the day or night
The mission preparation starts about four hours before take-off with a selection of briefings that include:
- situation update;
- current intelligence;
- weather mission details (for example, where are supporting aircraft?);
- Rules of Engagement;
- SPINS (special instructions contained within the Air Tasking Order);
- and emergency procedures, including in the event of ejecting over hostile territory
Aircrew then prepare their personal kit, which will include a combat survival vest, water and something to eat. They go to the aircraft about an hour prior to take-off and check all systems and weapons. A spare aircraft or two is always needed to ensure not missing operational tasks.
It is critical to take note of the support ground crew working on the aircraft before the aircrew arrive – these people are a key part of the team to get the operation started.
Post take-off, the aircrew’s routine tasks are normally:
- Carry out further full check of all systems to ensure all is OK to enter the operational area;
- Entering the area, check in with the controlling authority - probably AWACS - who will give a short tactical update;
- Once "feet dry" i.e. over hostile territory, stand ready to react to whatever presents itself. If an aircraft enters the NFZ, determine whether it is authorised or not, whether it is "hostile" or has just entered the NFZ by mistake;
- Use all sensors and build awareness for yourself, as well as all other players - particularly the AWACS;
- React quickly, pass information if commander's decision or clearance needed, deal with whatever comes up on the watch;
- Stay on task until relieved, use air-to-air refuelling if necessary. Typical time on task during Operation DENY FLIGHT in Bosnia and Herzegovina was 3 hours making it a 4-5 hour mission from start to finish;
- Recover back to base safely, don't relax once "feet wet" – back home – to avoid the risk of making (dangerous) errors;
- Hand the aircraft back to the engineers, report any problems or faults.
And then – and only then – can you start to wind down.