Mali Mission Matures Sentinel Capability

By Tony Osborne
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Sentinel mission staff devote many hours to pre-flight planning. The GMTI data allowed the French to target the Al-Qaeda-backed Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) insurgents who traversed the desert in small vehicles. When the insurgents realized that using these vehicles made them an obvious target, they began mingling with the local population and began attacking French and African forces using various insurgent tactics.

Sentinel GMTI was also used to track movements of the insurgents between the Algerian and Malian borders as well as at key crossing points along the Niger River delta. Foliage in the delta region proved to be a challenge, but crews were able to spot a number of crossing points being used by Mujao fighters who had shifted their movements to the center of the country, particularly as they were dispersed following major French pushes deep into the Sahel region.

The Sentinel is officially due to end its service career when operations wtih Afghanistan end, but that decision—made in the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR—is being reexamined by defense ministry officials. At this point, the aircraft could well be offered to form part of NATO's Alliance Ground Surveillance system, according to Air Marshal Stephen Dalton, speaking in London last month.

In addition, RAF officers point out that since the wording in the SDSR says the Sentinel will be withdrawn “once it is no longer required to support operations in Afghanistan,” politicians should take into consideration that there may well be a need to support Afghan forces with ISR capability after U.K. combat troops have left.

There is no sign of training or operations tapering off in the near future. Raytheon U.K.'s Astor facility has trained 1,000 army, navy and air force students since 2005.

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