A new camera, claimed to be able to read the time of Big Ben from around 70 miles away, is helping RAF pilots on combat missions in Afghanistan.

Fixed underneath fighter jets, the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (Raptor) delivers ‘motion-free images of extraordinary detail’, according to the RAF which describes the kit as an ‘electro-optical and infrared (IR), long-range oblique-photography pod’.

An RAF spokesman added: ‘The Raptor pod contains a dual-band (visible and IR) sensor which is capable of detecting and identifying small targets from either short range or long range, and from medium or high altitudes, by day or night.

‘The Raptor system can create images of hundreds of separate targets in one sortie; it is capable of autonomous operation against pre-planned targets, or it can be re-retasked manually for targets of opportunity or to select a different route to the target.’

The IR technology enables analysts to pinpoint differences in the shape, composition or content of subjects from their ‘thermal signatures’.

Wing Commander James Linter, officer commander 12 (Bomber) squadron, told The Press Association: ‘One of the early testers flew over the Isle of Wight to test it. They were able to take a shot of the face of Big Ben.’