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.
Germany will disband its Tornado training unit at Holloman Air Force Base in the US in 2019. Berlin has decided to move training to Schleswig-Jagel in northern Germany. Holloman AFB in New Mexico has been home to German Air Force fighter jet training since 1992, using both the F-4 Phantom and Panavia Tornado.
The announcement doesn’t come as a surprise, given the reduced number of Tornados still in German operation. A total of 85 of the fighter-bomber jets still fly, with roughly 70 based at two airbases in Germany. The remainder are at Holloman and will return to Germany by 2019, heading to Schleswig-Jagel.
During the eighties and especially during the nineties, the Tornado was the most numerous fighter aircraft flown by the German Air Force. The type was in use as fighter bomber, recce and SEAD platform and also served as an air-to-air refueller. The German Navy used the jet for anti-shipping warfare.
UPDATED 16 February | The Royal Saudi Air Force is about to send combat jets to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, to start bombing runs against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) in Syria.
Update | News surrounding the deployment is vague at best. Most recent info is that the Saudi jets will deploy to Turkey ‘by the end of February’, sources in Riyadh say.
Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Cavusoglu confirmed the Kingdom’s plans Saturday 13 February 2015. Saudi quarter makers already inspected Incirlik and see it fit for operations, Cavusoglu said to Turkish journalists.
With the substantial Russian combat air expeditionary wing operating inside Syria, the RSAF probably will not only deploy air-to-ground attack dedicated F-15S/SA Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado IDSs – or a mixture of those – but very likely add a dedicated counter-air/air escort element to the ops. That task could either be done by the Typhoons or Saudi F-15C and D Eagle air-supiority fighters.
According to sources in Ankara and in Riyadh the Saudis are even considering a land operation, with troops being flown into Incirlik to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. If that plan will be executed, it may mean involvement of Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from Incirlik as well, but so far that plan is just a plan.
The Saudis are calling an end to the leadership of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is more or less supported by Moscow – at least for the time being.
Civil and military aviation better don’t mix. Why? Let me take you to RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, 3 Fighter Squadron. The squadron has increased its level of training to better prepare its junior pilots before they embark on the year-long Qualified Weapons Instructors’ Course (QWIC) We take turns at being the bad guys during training sorties in the training areas over the North Sea.
Today is our turn to be blue air so we invite our sister squadron’s pilots as red air. I’m responsible for the training and will be flying as the number 2. I’ve come up with a scenario that I want red air to use. I have told their flight leader that I want them to simulate the Su-27 Flanker and that they should simulate having airfields to the north of the airspace. Our “target” is an oil rig in the sea near the red airfields.
Almost three hours of planning, briefing and starting aeroplanes later, the blue air flight leader has led us to the tanker flying just north of the airways from Germany. Our radars automatically pick up the airline traffic to the south of us as we approach the tanker. Tanking is a tricky business, but we train as often as we can to make sure we can plug in even at night in cloud. We need protected airspace to allow us to practise this without worrying about other air traffic. The tanker captain is the formation leader and he is doing what he can to stay in smooth air and out of clouds.
After the tanking is done, we talk to GCI who are the guardians of the airspace we use. They monitor the safety of the aircraft using the area and provide a verbal “picture” of where the bad guys are to help us point our radars at them for higher fidelity information which we can use to shoot missiles. The faster and higher a fighter is before firing his missile, the further the missile will go.
Sometimes it isn’t just about maximum range: it is also about energy. If I shoot a missile at closer than maximum range, it has more energy when it finds the target. The missile can use that energy to “fly” after the target. So I can take a very long range shot which the enemy can defeat with a small manoeuvre, or I can take a very short range shot which the enemy can not escape from. Often we take a mixture of both types of shot depending on our best guess of what we think the enemy are going to do. The ranges of these shots are obviously one of the most highly classified parts of a fighter pilot’s job.
With Eurofighter Typhoon, the incredible speed and altitude performance of the jet means that it can shoot missiles at much greater ranges than we have been used to. That means we need to have the airspace distance to take those long shots and altitude to get to the parameters to take the shots.
Turnin’ and burnin’
We need the areas to be over the sea because most of the fight will be flown at supersonic speeds, often pointing straight down at the ground and in full reheat. The turnin’ and burnin’ and the associated changes in direction and altitude are so fast that ground stations can not keep up with it. We also use chaff to defeat opposition locks and radio jamming to make it trickier to “kill” targets. Finally we need to be able to fly over simulated ground targets and run through the process of finding a target and dropping a bomb on it. This sometimes means flying around a target in circles.
Flying in circles is not for airliners. They prefer straight lines. However , airliners flying in a straight line tends to only happen over the vast expanses of ocean around the World. Not so over the North Sea and over lots more areas everywhere. Why? For all of the above reasons. We better don’t mix.
Germany is still in the process of working towards full strength with its Tornado aircraft over Syria. Four more Tornado jets left Germany since Monday 4 January for the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. The German Bundeswehr is expecting to reach full strength and mission capability mid-January.
Two Tornados took off from Schleswig-Jagel airbase in northern Germany on Monday and headed south. Two additional Tornados left Büchel airbase on Tuesday and also fly to Incirlik. Another two will fly to Turkey next week,
So far, the jet In Incirlik have only been used for orientation flights in Turkish airspace. Recce flights over Syria will start as soon as full strength is reached, using the Tornado’s infrared and optical image equipment.