8 Sqn Operations
On 24 August 13, RAF units deployed to Cyprus at short notice as part of contingency planning for the crisis in Syria.
This deployment brought together airmen, aircraft, equipment and expertise from No 1 Air Control Centre (1ACC), 8 Squadron, 11 Squadron and 216 Squadron to provide an integrated team to help stabilise the region and act as a precautionary measure to deter and protect the two Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) on the island, in so doing proving the RAF’s ability to react rapidly and put together a tailored response to meet the requirement.
The evolving regional scenario called for a short-notice deployable force, which came together under the leadership of 121 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW). Within hours of arriving in theatre, the force elements of 121 EAW were able to conduct sorties to reduce the threat to British nationals and sovereign territory potentially posed by the Syrian Arab Air Force. The rationale behind the deployment was proven almost immediately when Typhoon jets from 11 Squadron were scrambled against unknown aircraft, which approached Cypriot airspace on 2 Sep 13.
The 8 Sqn E-3D detachment consisted of 64 personnel: 2 crews, ground engineers and support personnel. The majority of this team deployed within 24 hours of receiving the order and were ready to conduct airborne missions just a few hours after arriving in Cyprus. RAF Akrotiri proved to be an excellent staging base, providing logistical support, good communications and planning facilities. The length of the deployment and significant sortie lengths meant that 8 Squadron set a regular roulement of personnel to ensure they were able to operate indefinitely without breaking crew fatigue limits. 8 Squadron was augmented by aircrew from 54(R) Squadron (the training and standards squadron) and 56(R) Squadron (the test and evaluation squadron) and support personnel from across RAF Waddington. Whilst the mission required long days for the crews, engineers and support staff, the detachment relished the opportunity to contribute to such an important role in the defence of British sovereign territory. Without question, the E-3D’s contribution was vitally important to the Operation’s success, proving invaluable in the provision of tactical situational awareness and proving the RAF’s ability to integrate seamlessly with the Royal Navy and Allied Armed Forces, thereby enhancing the reputation of the RAF and the UK as trusted and expert partners. Officer Commanding 8 Sqn, Wing Commander Jim Beldon, remarked:
‘It was clear from the outset that the Sentry would be a key component in this operation, for which the aircraft’s raison d’être – Airborne Early Warning – was especially well-suited. The E-3D’s ability to fuse the battlespace through its sophisticated communications and datalink architecture ensured that all UK and allied forces operating in the Eastern Mediterranean were aware of each other’s location, thereby minimizing the potential for fratricide. In bringing order to potential chaos, and in reassuring the personnel and families located at the Cyprus UK sovereign base areas, the personnel of 8 Squadron and the supporting elements are justly proud of their achievements. The E-3D proved itself not only to be critical to such operations, but added to the UK’s reputation as a professional and trusted ally. It has been another fine chapter in 8 Squadron’s history.’
The Expeditionary Air Wing Commanding Officer, Wg Cdr Blythe Crawford stated:
‘This operation has clearly proven that the UK still possesses a very capable and formidable, deployable Air Defence capability. The ability to provide around-the-clock situational awareness to both higher authority and our Typhoon pilots held at readiness is essential to any air operation, and the combined force of 1ACC, 8 Squadron and HMS Dragon proved our resilience in this key area. Whilst our primary objective was a deterrent one, in terms of protecting sovereign assets in the Eastern Mediterranean, I cannot understate the value of this deployment at the operational and strategic level, primarily through our integration as a cohesive joint force with our sister Service, the Royal Navy, and then subsequently as the UK with both French and US assets in the region, as well as engaging with other key regional actors. This has been an outstanding example of how the UK can rapidly respond, deploying a credible force, and immediately engage with key allies and partner nations. The advancement of Air Maritime Integration tactics, techniques and procedures has further enhanced our joint capabilities and this deployment should act as a benchmark for joint Air Force and Navy deployments in the future. I am immensely proud of the team and their considerable achievements throughout this operation – it has been a privilege to be a part of it.’