The Royal Air Force moved closer to a final Tornado farewell as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the type flew its last mission from Lossiemouth airbase in Scotland on Friday. Five Tornados flew a formation flypast over the airbase and other places. The end for the Tornado in the UK is set for 2019.
The OCU was better known as XV (Reserve) squadron and for several decades was responsible for Tornado GR4 crew training in the ground-attack role. Earlier, the squadron was an operational unit, flying Cold War-type combat missions from Germany
Now, only three operational Tornado squadrons remain, all based at RAF Marham. For close, to four decades, the Tornado formed the backbone of the RAF with Tornado F3 variants taking care of air defense while Tornado GR4 jets fulfilled a ground attack role. See our Tornado Time feature here.
The RAF for the next few decades relies on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35.
NATO maritime patrol aircraft of France and Canada have come to the rescue of the Royal Air Force and are hunting a Russian sub off the coast of Scotland, according to some British sources on Monday 23 November 2015.
The Russian submarine was apparently detected a number of days ago just north of the United Kingdom. With the RAF having no anti-submarine capacity of its own, the UK Ministry of Defence called Paris and Ottawa. Two French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 and a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CP-140 Polaris are now forming the make-shift airborne maritime patrol fleet, operating out of RAF Lossiemouth.
London officially acknowledges the presence of “foreign aircraft” at Lossiemouth, but does not comment in length on their operations. Royal Navy sources however have confirmed the involvement of at least one frigate and a hunter-killer submarine in offshore operations in the area without releasing details.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon
If the NATO aircraft are indeed actively involved in “the hunt for Red November”, it marks the third time in 12 months this happens. Relieve is on the way, the Ministry of Defence just announced the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft today. But since it will take a few years for the production to be done, NATO will likely have to step in again to serve Her Majesty’s once tough air weapon.
In a long awaited announcement, UK prime minister David Cameron on Monday 23 November stated the UK is buying nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft as part of a strategic defense review. The decision ends a long period of uncertainty about which aircraft should follow in the footsteps of the famed but retired Nimrod. Futhermore, the UK is creating two more Typhoon squadrons.
A statement also says the UK will extend the life of multirole Typhoon fighter aircraft for 10 extra years through to 2040, meaning the Royal Air Force will be able to create 2 additional squadrons. This gives the British a total of frontline 7 squadrons, consisting of around 12 aircraft per squadron. Downing Street also announced an investment in Typhoon’s ground attack capability, plus the addition of the latest Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
According to sources, London is also said to soon purchase up to 24 F-35B Lightnings to equip its two future aircraft carriers. So far, the British have ordered only ten aircraft, with three already delivered. In total, the UK is planning to get 138 F-35Bs over the next two decades, fulfilling an commitment for the 5th generation and stealthy aircraft made earlier.
Also on the fast jet front, the Panavia Tornado is to retire in 2019, when the final two squadrons hand in their aircraft. Furthermore, 14 out of 24 C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft will remain in service between 2022 and 2030 to serve alongside new Airbus A400M airlifters.
In the cold skies over the English Channel, Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons met up with Russian Tu-95 Bears again on Wednesday 28 January. The Russian long range bombers aircraft were detected by the RAF Control and Reporting Centre in Boulmer, after which two Typhoons were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
The Typhoons visually identified and escorted the Russian aircraft through and out of the UK Flight Information Region (FIR). The Bears did not enter UK airspace. Air-to-air refueling for the Typhoons was provided by an Airbus Voyager MRTT from Brize Norton. Total mission time for the entire mission was 12 hours, according to the RAF.
Last year, Russian aircraft became a familiar sight in Europe. Not only strategic bombers, but also tactical bombers such as the Su-34 Fullback showed themselves, sometimes at very close range. According to NATO, over 400 intercepts were carried out on Russian aircraft in 2014. Especially 28 and 29 October proved to be busy days.
NATO on Wednesday 29 October 2014 sounded the alarm over Russian aircraft heading out in the skies over Europe far more often recently. So far in 2014, NATO fighter aircraft conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, which is about three times more than were conducted in 2013. A round up of known intercepts is below.
Only last week, a Russian Il-20 spy plane was caught in international airspace after it took off in Kaliningrad and headed over the Baltic Sea towards Denmark. NATO F-16s soon caught up with it. On 21 September Danish F-16s along with fighter aircraft from Finland and Sweden (both non-members of NATO but participants in the Partnership for Peace program) chased two Tu-22M Backfires and two Su-27 Flankers, while on the same day German Typhoons played cat and mouse with two Flankers near the Baltics.
Scotland Royal Air Force Typhoons took off from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland on 19 September, to intercept two Tu-95 Russian Bear H bombers in international airspace. Several days earlier, on Wednesday 17 September, Sweden picked up two Su-24 Fencers, which later were also shadowed by NATO aircraft.
On Thursday 28 August a Russian An-72 flew close to Helsinki, forcing the Finnish Air Force to send up F/A-18 Hornets. On 21 August, Danish, Dutch and UK fighters intercepted two Tu-95 Bears over the North Sea. The same thing happened in April.
In June, Royal Air Force Typhoons based in Lithuania met with four Russian Su-27s, two Tu22 Backfire bomber, one Beriev A50 Mainstay early-warning aircraft and an An-26 Curl transport aircraft.
NATO Air Policing
As a reply to Russian interference in Ukraine, NATO fortified the Baltic Air Policing mission in the Baltic states and Poland earlier this year. Currently, Canadian F/A-18 Hornets, Portuguese F-16s, German Eurofighter Typhoons and Dutch F-16s are involved in this mission, flying from Ämari airbase in Estonia, Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania and Malbork in Poland. Meanwhile, Czech Air Force Saab Gripens are watching the skies over Iceland.