The second problem was rather less straightforward. Once the Buccaneers had been ordered off, the crews needed to know exactly what it was that they were supposed to hit, and how they were supposed to hit it. Dealing with the second, ‘how?’, question first, the most important factor was the need to minimise collateral damage. This clearly required a precision attack which, in turn, meant Laser Guided Bombs – the reason why the Buccaneer had been chosen in the first place. It was reasoned that the most likely targets would be artillery positions which would almost certainly not be visible to the FAC in his block of flats, which ruled out ground-based laser target marking. This drove us towards airborne laser designation but the difficulties inherent in acquiring and designating small land targets from low level were well understood and this rendered the Buccaneer’s standard toss tactic unattractive, if not unusable.

I should perhaps explain that ‘tossing’ a bomb involved a minimum of two aircraft, a ‘bomber’ and a ‘designator’ both of which approached the target at low level. The designator would stay low and, having identified the target, direct a beam of high-intensity light (laser) at it from a pod carried under its wing. Meanwhile the bomber would have pulled up into a steep climb, releasing the bomb to fly on upwards before arcing over to fall back down into the ‘basket’ of reflected laser energy. As soon as the bomb’s guidance system was able to detect that it was ‘in’ the basket, its integral controls adjusted its flight path so that it homed onto the source of the reflected illumination – the target.

While that was a reasonably viable option against something as large and distinctive as a capital ship at sea, it was far less practical against a small, and quite possibly camouflaged, land target that would be very difficult to identify.

To improve the chances of target acquisition it would be necessary to fly higher, but accurate illumination required the designator to be close to the target. These requirements could be combined by approaching at a relatively high altitude, to afford the designator more time to search for and locate the target, and then diving steeply while marking it. To work, this would require an absence of cloud, to permit visual target acquisition, and a benign air defence environment. The seasonal weather could be expected to provide a better than even chance of clear skies and the MOD assessment was that the defences were likely to be confined to SAM-7 and small arms fire.

The upshot of all this was a sortie profile that involved a pair of aircraft departing Akrotiri at 100 feet and staying at that height until they had coasted-in, at which point they would climb, in close formation, aiming to be at 11,000 feet, and offset laterally from the target, to permit it to be acquired.  Once identified, both aircraft would roll into a 40-degree dive with the pilot of the designator putting his weapon aiming boresight on the target. His navigator would then place the crosswires on his TV display over the aiming point, proclaim that he was ‘Happy!’ and switch on the laser. The pilot of the other aircraft, who had also been boresighting the target visually, would release the bomb at 7,000 feet allowing both aircraft to turn away while continuing to descend to low level for the recovery


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