Tornados strike

RAF Tornado GR4s strike Syrian oil fields

RAF Tornado GR4s launched missions against IS targets in Syria just hours after a parliamentary vote approved the expansion of the UK mission into Syria.

Four Tornados employed Paveway IV munitions against targets in eastern Syria.

Six RAF Typhoons also deployed on the morning of December 3 to join UK missions from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.

Having entered front-line service with the Royal Air Force in 1982, the RAF Tornado GR Force (TGRF) has assembled an unparalleled service record. It has been in constant combat action since 1991, and these very same aircraft still provide the backbone of the RAF’s precision-strike force.

Such is the value of the Tornado that last year No 12 (Bomber) Squadron was reactivated in order to maintain three front-line squadrons within the Tornado GR4 Force (TGRF). On August 3 2015, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that No 12(B) Squadron would be extended beyond the initial one year of its rejuvenation — now to March 2017 — to help maintain the required combat air mass to support the current Operation ‘Shader’ strike and tactical reconnaissance missions over Iraq and now Syria.

The Tornado is still the only platform capable of carrying and surgically employing the MBDA Storm Shadow stand-off cruise missile and the similarly impressive Dual-Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone. Both of these weapons are slated for Typhoon integration under the forthcoming P2E and P3E spiral upgrade phases, but until that time the ‘Mighty Fin’ still earns its status in the RAF.

A constant set of refinements and mission-specific enhancements has continued to trickle down to the TGRF over recent years. The Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) — still commonly referred to unofficially as ‘nav’ or navigator — now sits in front of a large central screen in the rear cockpit that came about as a result of the Tornado Advanced Radar Display and Information System (TARDIS), which replaced the old circular moving map with a new radar processor and digital map. The TARDIS upgrade also saw the retrofit of former Tornado F3 WSO hand controllers, which has made manipulation of the Litening pod far more straightforward. Ultra’s Secure Communications on Tornado (SCoT) radios provide for robust communications and the long-awaited Tactical Information Exchange Capability (TIEC) datalink is now also found across the fleet and includes Link 16 with an Improved Data Modem (IDM). IDM data is displayed on the left-hand color screen in the rear cockpit that has replaced the legacy TV-Tab screen and can receive in-flight target data. Litening pod imagery is also still shown on the left- and right-hand screens, with a clear desire to have this displayed much larger on the central TARDIS display.

No one can argue with the combat pedigree of the Tornado GR4: from Operation ‘Granby’ (the 1990-91 Gulf War), through the following years of Iraqi no-fly zones, Operations ‘Jural’ and ‘Desert Fox’, Operation ‘Allied Force’ over Kosovo, Operation ‘Telic’ in 2003 and the enduring Iraq mission, Operation ‘Herrick’ in Afghanistan, Operation ‘Ellamy’ over Libya, not to mention various other vital missions and now Op ‘Shader’. The Tornado has earned an unequalled place in the RAF history books.

The full version of this feature appeared in Combat Aircraft November 2015 issue.

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