Saturday, February 20, 2010
Sgt Jason Thrasher 32 Regiment Royal Artillery – UAV Image Analyst
It is day 4 of Operation Moshtarak and I am watching a bank of large screens in front of me. The black and white images are crystal clear, showing me a bird’s eye view of the mighty Python moving into position on one screen, and a foot patrol of Afghan troops and Royal Welsh soldiers on patrol in a different location on another screen.
The Python is about to clear an area of suspected IEDs along the new route being created into Nad e Ali heading towards the key town of Showal. This is the first time that it is being used in Afghanistan and a small audience has gathered behind me to see what happens.
In another cabin next to the operations room the ‘pilot’ of the un-manned Hermes 450 is flying the aircraft directly over the Manoeuvre Support Group, 28 Regiment Royal Engineers. He looks like he is playing on a grown up version of a play station as he deftly guides the UAV over the tactical position on the ground.
We are in constant communication with each other because as I watch the images I can talk him through adjusting the flight path so that I can scan the whole area. My job is to make absolutely sure that there are no local Afghans, military personnel or rural compounds in the blast area. It is going to make one hell of a bang when it goes off!
Image Analysis can be a nervous business! If you make a wrong call lives could be lost. So you have to ‘Confirm in your head …confirm in your head….confirm in your head’ before you make any decision.
I confirm that the area is clear for firing.
The message is relayed to the troops on the ground, and as I watch from Camp Bastion Python lets rip! I can’t hear the sound but the black and white image in front of me explodes in an impressive cloud of dust.
Job done. Back to providing overwatch of the Combined Force 31 foot patrol as it carefully makes its way through another area of Nad e Ali. Our task to hold a secure area in Central Helmand continues with everyone working hard to keep the Taliban out and bring the civilian stabilisation teams in.