Saudi Pilots conduct test-bombings at RAF bases in Britain

Nathan Czapnik, is a member of the YCL’s London District 

The Ministry of Defence has revealed that Saudi pilots have undergone test-bombings at British ‘air weapon ranges’ in cooperation with the RAF. 

After a Freedom of Information Act request from Declassified UK, an independent investigative journalist organisation, it was shown that the RAF has been training Saudi pilots from the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) for them to practice for airstrikes in Yemen. 

The RAF training scheme with the Saudi pilots involves 5 ‘air weapon ranges’ for bomb tests and 24 civilian airports for ‘air-to-ground’ training sorties within Britain. 

Despite the RAF refusing to release video footage of the Saudi pilots undergoing airstrikes at ‘air weapon ranges’: in Britain, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has commented that making the footage public could hinder the “effectiveness and capability” of the RSAF for conflict. Moreover, the MOD said in the request that the videos of RSAF pilots show the “impact of the air-to-ground attacks, such as how much damage they can initiate.”

Whereas footage on the RAF’s YouTube account openly shows RAF pilots conducting air strikes at bomb ranges in Scotland, the refusal to expose the RSAF footage to the public domain stresses how the diplomatic arms and oil interests of the British government with the Saudi’s overwhelms any inkling of desire to inform the British public. 

In addition, Battle Damage Assessment and Collateral Damage Estimation have been withheld from the Freedom of Information Act request, stressing the secrecy surrounding the extreme effectiveness of these bombs in wreaking havoc. 

There are 5 ‘air weapons ranges’ for bombing practice within Britain, with the most prolific for Saudi involvement being Garvie Island in Scotland. The others include Highlands and Pembrey Sands in South Wales and Donna Nook and Holbeach in the East of England. 

The primary bombs used by the trainee Saudi pilots are the Paveway IVs. These bombs weighing 500-lbs and manufactured by Raytheon in Glenrothes, Scotland have been used by the Saudi-led coalition during the Yemen war. Human Rights Watch believe that the coalition may have committed a war crime when they used the Paveway IV to bomb a food warehouse in Yemen’s Hodeidah port in January 2016. The Raytheon’s British operation is chaired by Conservative peer Lord Strathclyde. 

Alongside the bombing ranges, 24 civilian airfields in Britain are allocated to the Saudi pilots for flying lessons. 

For ‘air-to-ground’ training, the RAF-welcomed Saudi pilots have been predominantly taught their flying lessons in the Hawk fighter jets. The Hawk jets are manufactured by the British arms giant BAE systems. BAE has supplied in excess of £15 billion with of military equipment to the Saudis since the beginning of the Yemen war in 2015. 

Roughly a third of the training for Saudi pilots occur at RAF Valley, North Wales. Here cadets have been taught how to fly the Hawk fighter jets despite opposition to the operations. 

Over the past decade, more than 100 Saudi pilots have learnt to fly at RAF bases in Britain. This is by no means near ending and reports of Saudi pilots being trained during July this year have been verified. 

The RAF has unsurprisingly refuted these statistics and has argued that RSAF pilots haven’t been trained in Britain since 2017. However, their bluff was blown when James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces told parliament that some RSAF pilots were still in training and that a handful of the programmes lasted for up to four years. 

A map of the RAF bases being used by Saudi pilots

The secret relations between the British government and Saudi Arabia does not come as a shock when taking into account their historical arms trade relations. Britain has licensed the sale of over $6 billion worth of arms and aircraft to the Middle-Eastern superpower since 2015. 

Although having had momentarily paused arms trades after the Campaign Against the Arms Trade successfully managed to legally suspend the British exports upon humanitarian grounds in 2019, this had marginal effect and as of July this year, the British government announced that it would resume the arms sales to Riyadh. 

It is now public knowledge that the RAF is directly supporting the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. Bombing hospitals, schools and even weddings, the airstrikes and ground attacks have deprived the country of its infrastructure and worsened a national famine. Standalone, the famine in Yemen that has killed well over 85,000 children since 2016 (2018 estimate from Save the Children) and has forced roughly 24 million Yemeni people to be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Statistics from the Yemen Data Project show that since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has either killed or injured at least 18,500 civilians. 

Nathan Czapnik

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