The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) today deployed an Airbus A400M aircraft to support border patrol operations in the English Channel.

The tasking comes after last week, the Home Office officially requested the Ministry of Defence (MOD) support its efforts against Migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Commenting on the operation in a statement on Twitter, the MOD said the A400M took-off from RAF Brize Norton ‘to support Border Force operations in the Channel’. The deployment was authorised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and is the MOD’s initial offer of assistance to the Home Office.

Last Saturday, the MOD confirmed it had been approached by the Home Office to support operations in the English Channel. In its statement, the MOD said: “The MOD has received a request from the Home Office to support UK Border Force operations in the Dover Straits.

“We are assessing the requirements using the formal Military Aid to Civilian Authorities (MACA) process and are working to identify how we can most effectively assist. As ever, the MOD will do all it can to support HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] requirements.”

The A400M while not a dedicated ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aircraft is capable of undertaking aerial surveillance missions.

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Crews are trained in maritime surface surveillance and airborne search and rescue as part of their mission when deployed on the Falklands Islands.

The A400M used in today’s mission is understood to be a ‘national standby’ asset, meaning it can be tasked at short notice to undertake operations and was readily deployable to assist the Home Office. ‘National standby’ assets are regularly used by the MOD to fulfil MACA requests.

Around 4,000 people have travelled to the UK using small boats so far this year. Most of the migrants arriving in small boats have made the journey from war-torn regions of the world, including the Middle East and Africa.

Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refused to rule out that the Government could ask the Royal Navy to patrol the waters between France and the UK.

In 2016, the Home Office terminated an aerial surveillance contract it held with Cobham hampering its aerial surveillance capabilities.

The UK Border Force also operates a Tekever AR5 UAS, for the same purpose as today’s A400M flight. The Tekever is billed by its manufacturer as a ‘medium-altitude, medium-endurance fixed-wing UAS’ that is designed for Search and Rescue, Maritime Surveillance and Maritime Patrol operations. The AR5 has a flight endurance of up to 20 hours.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is also set to trial Elbit’s Hermes 900 Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for maritime surveillance and search and rescue. A key selling point of the Hermes 900 is its long flight endurance, with the systems able to stay airborne for up to 36 hours