The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has stated that UK military aircraft have provided surveillance support to Israel, following the deployment of assets to the eastern Mediterranean amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
In written parliamentary responses confirming the deployments on 13 November, MoD officials stated the UK had deployed “P-8 and other surveillance assets to improve our situational awareness in the region and provide assurance to our partners”.
Israel has been embroiled in an ongoing war with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and which conducted a bloody incursion into Israel on 7 October resulting in the deaths of some 1,200 Israeli’s, with over 200 kidnapped. The military response from Israel into Gaza has caused over 10,000 civilian deaths, according to Hamas-run Gazan authorities.
On 13 October, the UK confirmed it would be sending aircraft to the region to “support Israel and reinforce regional stability”.
A second UK parliamentary response stated that flights to improve situational awareness included the prevention of “transfer of weapons to terrorist groups”, and to “wider” regional security, in addition to the delivery of humanitarian aid into Egypt.
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) operates a fleet of P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft but also has a range of other airborne platforms that could perform surveillance functions, such as the MQ-9B Reaper drones or Rivet Joint RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft. It is not known what specific platforms were referred to in the MoD’s “other surveillance assets” comment.
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A total of 12 UK military aircraft had deployed to the region, MoD officials confirmed, with some flights having conducted “surveillance support to Israel”.
These aircraft could utilise the UK’s two main airbases located inside the Sovereign Base Areas on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, although MoD officials did not specify basing sites. The UK’s main airbase on Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, is home to the RAF’s 903 Expeditionary Air Wing, comprised of Typhoon FGR4 multirole fighters, A330 MRTT tankers, and A400M Atlas transporters.
Monitoring of flight transponder data on open-source tracker Flightradar24 on the evening of 14 November showed an RAF A330 MRTT air-to-air refuelling tanker flying in close proximity to a Typhoon fighter over international waters near the coasts of Egypt, Gaza, and Israel. The flight path of the MRTT aircraft indicated a route from Jordan, across Egypt and over the Mediterranean, seeming to land at RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus.
The RAF Typhoon’s flight path began around 40km north of the Egyptian coast and around 80km west of Gaza, indicating that it was flying with its transponder turned off prior to that point. A transit north across the Mediterranean saw the Typhoon disappear off flight tracking radar, some 30km southwest of RAF Akrotiri.
Subsequent monitoring of flight data saw an MRTT aircraft operating south of Cyprus during the afternoon of 15 November, as well as an RAF Typhoon fighter in proximity.
The RAF’s Typhoon FGR4 fleet can be equipped with the Litening targeting and surveillance pod, with the latest variant – Litening V – offering multiple infrared search and tracking capabilities. Manufactured by Israeli prime Rafael, the system can perform Non-Traditional Surveillance Intelligence Reconnaissance (NTISR), among other capabilities, according to company information.
UK naval task force arrives in eastern Mediterranean
In addition, the planned UK amphibious task force has arrived in the eastern Mediterranean region on 8 November, including the Bay-class landing ship dock RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Argus.
The Bay-class are workhorses of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, able to perform a wide-range of roles and act as a mothership for a deployed force. One vessel is permanently stationed in the Middle East, usually leaving one vessel available for European/Atlantic operations, with the other in refit or maintenance.
RFA Argus serves as the UK’s Primary Casualty Receiving Ship with a 100-bed hospital in times of conflict, with secondary roles as a training vessel for helicopter training. In addition, the auxiliary deploys on counter-narcotics and humanitarian aid/disaster relief duties and can support amphibious operations.