Inside Mission Control: Directing The Air Campaign Against Islamic State

The futuristic control centre on Al Udeid Air Base, in the Gulf State of Qatar, is where the air war against IS is directed from. 

The futuristic control centre on Al Udeid Air Base, in the Gulf State of Qatar, is where the air war against Islamic State (IS) is directed from. 

It is the hub of US air operations in the Middle East and is the size of a small town, with more than 10,000 American military personnel stationed there.

For the past three years, it has been the nerve centre of the coalition air war against Islamic State.

Sharing the skies with Russian jets and minimising civilian casualties are just two of the daily problems facing crews on the ground

From the outside, the Combined Air Operations Centre or CAOC, resembles a huge bunker but on the inside, it is mission control.

Personnel from dozens of nations control the military airspace of Iraq and Syria and manage the daily missions.

Giant screens show aircraft movements and live feeds from the many drones currently circling the skies of Iraq and Syria.

Remotely piloted aircraft allow those at mission control to observe, gain information and take action in extremely hostile territory - but from a safe distance. 

Al Udeid Air Base Op Room

Among the hundreds of people working at the centre are British troops.

Air Cdre Johnny Stringer, UK Air Component Commander, is the man in charge of the UK’s air campaign:

"It's the intelligence to understand what is going on. Both for those people we're fighting, those people who are operating in the same airspace - and the airspace is very congested. It's a very complex operating environment.

"They are helping make sense of that environment through to the elements of deep intelligence and targeting work that allows us to prosecute our targets"

KC-135 stratotankers US

On the tarmac outside is evidence of the vast American arsenal that is now aimed at IS.

KC-135 Stratotankers first entered service in the 1950s but they are still flying, providing the air to air refuelling so vital to the coalition air campaign.

Al Udeid is so busy it has the tempo of an international airport, with an aircraft taking off or landing every ten minutes.

Al Udeid Air Base Exterior

This month marks the third anniversary of Op Shader – Britain’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State.

Since 2014, coalition jets have launched more than 26 thousand airstrikes against IS in both Iraq and Syria.

For Air Cdre Johnny Stringer, UK Air Component Commander, the British personnel at Al Udeid are playing a vital role in the defeat of IS.

“The Royal Airforce has operated at a tempo, a scale and collective weight and rate of effort, that we have probably not seen since 1945”.

A RAF Reaper successfully targets two armed extremist sentries, immediately stopping a Daesh execution.