Military Low Flying Essential
I'm always a little concerned by the comments of people who don't really know what they are talking about concerning low flying. Its first considering why we low fly. There are essentially 2 completely different threats to any bombing mission. Missiles and radar guided guns - the classic air defence stuff - and aircraft. With missiles and radar guided guns, the safest place to be is medium to high altitude. There you are out of range of a lot of stuff, and the stuff that can get you you will have amply warning on your threat receivers and have a good chance of dodging. Low altitude is a poor second best, relying on not being visible to the enemy operators for long enough to draw a missile/gun shot. The absolute worst place to be against guns and missiles is the space between low and medium level - basically between 250 ft and 10000 ft.
Against aircraft the situation is a lot worse. A modern bomber, carrying a heavy bomb load, will almost always come out worst against a modern fighter. You can try putting up the classic US Alpha Strike - a package of 70+ aircraft with jamming and fighter support mixed in with the bombers - but over enemy territory with their radar coverage, and their bases closer than yours, you will likely be outnumbered and outgunned. Remember at the start of Gulf War 1, Iraq had something like 500 modern fighters. Western military planners were very surprised when Saddam Hussein decided not to use them to any great extent. The safest place against fighters is really low, below radar, and able to go undetected. This neatly corresponds with a reasonably safe place against missiles so every armed force in the world used these tactics. In Vietnam for example, planes would fly medium or high level missions over South Vietnam, but most A6 missions over North Vietnam were performed at low level.
The Gulf War (part 1) was an interesting problem. We thought Saddam would fly his fighters, and he also had excellent air defence, especially around his airfields. The Allied side took on their standard NATO roles. The British took on one of their specific NATO roles which was airfield denial. Well known to be the most dangerous job on a modern battlefield. The Battle of Britain taught every nation in the world that you have to protect your airfields or lose. Our tactics getting in and out of the airfields unseen were outstanding. We lost a couple of aircraft to CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) which is an operational risk of doing low flying, especially over the desert, but on the route in and out of Iraq we actually did pretty well. Unfortunately, the JP233 runway denial weapon was dreadful. It required you to fly at a fixed height and speed over the runway for it to work. The Iraqi's realised this and positioned their guns accordingly, and we suffered. What we also failed to do was change tactics. When the air situation turned out to be much more favourable, we should have arguably switched to medium or high altitude earlier. However, lacking the TIALD pods (laser guidance pods) we persisted with low altitude work even after we had finished the airfield denial exercise. We started following a procedure where you loft a bomb onto a target. Essentially pulling up 5 miles before a target, and releasing the bomb as you climb to send the bomb in a ballistic arc into the target. Unfortunately, for a few minutes this puts you in the really dangerous area of above low altitude but below medium altitude. We lost a bunch of aircraft to this silly tactic - including the 2 Johns (Nicols and Peters).
What it is disingenious to suggest is that low flying was the reason we lost all our aircraft. I think 2, maybe 3 of the 7 lost can be attributed to low flying. The reason we lost a lot of aircraft was that we expected Saddam Hussein to fight and set our tactics up accordingly. And in turn, we also had the most dangerous job of the NATO countries involved. If anything the main reason we lost so many aircraft was simply because we lacked all the shiny kit of the Americans, that prevented us from changing tactics properly when we should have done. This is still a problem now, we have some of the finest trained pilots in the world, but they often lack the gear to do the job. We still routinely only have part of each aircraft fleet fitted with the operational equipment you want to do your job (like the TIALD designators from the Gulf War 1).
George Washington's famous quote; “An army of asses led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by an ass." is more relevant than ever. The fact that we can send troops to the desert in woodland pattern combat clothes, without desert boots, lacking body armour, and with aircraft ill-equipped to do the job, is disappointing at best, and criminal at worst.
I've lost friends in this war. As an ex-serving officer I staunchly believe the Government is falling woefully short in the level of support it gives its troops. And to see cheap digs at things like low flying from a media organisation I respect is disappointing.