Tag Archives: Tornado

Overview: Yemen Air Strikes

UPDATED 21APRIL 2015 | The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) led air strikes on Houthi rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen has got a broad military support from many other Arab nations. As Airheadsfly.com got new data the RSAF F-15S (Strike) Eagles and EF2000 Typhoons didn’t fly into combat alone at all.

If our sources are correct the United Arab Emirates Air Force sent 30 of its fighter jets, mainly Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcons and possibly a number of Dassault Mirage 2000s. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and Kuwait Air Force both said to have contributed about 15 combat jets each. If true, the relatively large RBAF contribution is remarkable, since the country has only about 15 to 17 operational F-16Cs and eight remaining and aging Northrop F-5Es.

The Kuwait Air Force used almost half of its 35 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The Qatar Emiri Air Force scrambled up to ten of its Mirage 2000s, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew six of its Lockheed Martin F-16s into combat in the Yemen.

Air Assets Operation Restoring Hope (known as Decisive Storm until the end of April 2015)

  • Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF):
    100 aircraft, including Boeing F-15C Eagle air-superiority fighters, Boeing F-15S (Strike) Eagles, Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon multi-role fighters, Panavia Tornado interdictor / strike aircraft, Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (unconfirmed), Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopter) AS532M Cougar CSAR helicopters
  • United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF):
    30 fighter jets of Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000 type
  • Kuwait Air Force (KAF):
    15 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet multirole fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
  • Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF):
    15 aircraft of the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 type
  • Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF):
    10 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
  • Royal Jordanian Air Force (RDAF):
    6 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/B Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
  • Royal Moroccan Air Force:
    6 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
  • Sudanese Air Force:
    3 to 6 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft. Operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia. Moreover the Sudanese Air Force has likely deployed some of its four C-130 Hercules and possible its two Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft in support
  • Egyptian Air Force:
    contribution unknown
  • US Air Force (USAF):
    Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.

The air strikes are focusing on Houthi rebel positions, air defence sites, air bases and Sanaa international airport, command-and-control locations and army camps in Sanaa, Saada and Taiz. The first strikes were launched on 25 or 26 March 2015, with ground forces engaged as well in what has been dubbed Operation Decisive Storm. Officially it takes place under the flag of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the members.

Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube

Saudi Arabia has said to have committed a 100 aircraft, as well as 150,000 ground forces. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons that the Royal Moroccan Air Force already had in the United Arab Emirates to fight ISIS in Iraq have also been retasked with supporting the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. Sudan committed three combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-24s (“Fencer”) sources say. Egypt pledged its support as well, but there is no information yet on how many and which aircraft it will sent.

The US Armed Forces are not directly taking part in the military ops, but do provide essential tanker support, according to sources to USA Today.

A Royal Saudi Air Force E-3 Sentry taking off (Image © Boeing)
Although its involvement has not been officially confirmed, it is very likely that the Saudis use their E-3 Sentries to provide a complete radar picture of the operations zone in Yemen (Image © Boeing)

The conflict in Yemen is between loyalist forces that support fled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi / Zaidi Shia rebels. Main focus is the western part of the country. There the loyalist forces have the most support in the Sunnis south – with Aden as the principal city. Whoever control Aden, controls the sea lanes to/from the Red Sea – a main supply route for oil and other goods. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia is said to be pushing towards Aden with a ground force of about 5,000 troops.

The Houthi forces have a strong control of the northern part of the west, mainly north of the capital of Sanaa. They easily took control of the capital last September and are known to be an effective fighting force, meaning the Arab coalition will very likely deploy combat aircraft and maybe helicopters in the close air-support role. In fact, the Saudis deployed armed helicopters (likely Apaches, but this is unconfirmed) on the border when its ground forces clased with Houthi forces.

Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube

During a large part of the 20th century there were two Yemens. North Yemen became a state in 1918, while South Yemen freed itself from colonizer Britain. The two united on 22 May 1990, but unrest has plagued the country since 1993. In the current conflict Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia support the loyalist forces – including military ground and air ops since this week. Iran is opposing the use of weapons by its Arab neighbours, but has so far stayed out of the conflict militarily.

Houthi rebel combat planes
Officially at least, since some sources indicate that Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force pilots are flying combat planes of Yemeni Air Force units who sided or were overrun by Houthi rebels. One or more Iranian ships have also docket in Hudaidah with military equipment and ammunition on board earlier this March.

But with the Royal Saudi Air Force controlling Yemeni air space since Thursday 26 March, it is unlikely that Houthi planes with Yemeni or Iranian pilots will stand much of a change. In fact, according to several sources on 30 March 2015 the Saudi-led air strikes have destroyed at least 11 fighter jets of the Houthi rebels. The rebels got quite a prize in the third week of March, capturing Yemeni Air Force Al Anad Airbase with apparently up to 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Some sources say that the Houthis never had more than 16 combat aircraft in total, so the exact details are somewhat sketchy.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A UAE F-16 (Image © Michael B. Keller / USAF)

Related: Saudis use Typhoon and F-15 in Yemen strike

A Jordan F-16, bought from surplus Belgium inventory. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Jordan F-16, bought from surplus Belgium inventory. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Very cool AirTanker air-to-air movie

AirTanker, the public private partnership that in 2008 took on the challenge of delivering, supporting and maintaining the future transport and air-to-air refuelling (AAR) operational capability for the Royal Air Force, released a very cool air-to-air video from its aircraft on the mission. Featuring, of course, the employees of its customer: fighter jocks and transport crews of the RAF.

Under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme, the aircraft chosen for the job was the Airbus A330 MRTT, named Voyager in British service. In total 14 Airbus A330MRTT are due to be delivered, with nine-aircraft as the core fleet and five as the so-called surge fleet.

The core-fleet is operated by RAF crews from 10 and 101 squadron, the surge fleet by AirTanker with civilian pilots, many of whom double as sponsored reservists with the RAF. Those “surge” aircraft are available for lease – including on the civilian market – but will be drawn back into service if the RAF needs them. AirTanker is planned to be at full strength by the end of 2016.

Airheadsfly.com visited AirTanker earlier this year and we were impressed by what we saw and heard. Check it out here!

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editors Marcel Burger and Elmer van Hest

WITH VIDEO: RAF Tornados leave Afghanistan

RAF Tornados are heading home after five years. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
RAF Tornados are heading home after five years. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

The skies over Afghanistan gradually become a little bit more quiet. In September, Belgian Air Component F-16s left Kandahar airbase, following in the foot steps of NATO E-3A Component AWACS aircraft while in July, Dutch F-16s also ended operations. Now, it’s Royal Air Force Panavia Tornados that return home, ending close to five years of consecutive Afghanistan ops.

The six Tornados and their crew belong to 31 squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. They left Kandahar early morning on Tuesday 11 November, heading toward RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, which by no accident is the airbase that the Royal Air Force currently uses for air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Iraq and Syria. After a stopover, the aircraft will return home to the UK.

Over Afghanistan, the aircraft were used for close air support and intelligence gathering, using their Litening III and RAPTOR reconnaissance pods. Over Iraq and Syria, Tornados of 2 squadron target ISIS forces. The deployment of number 2 squadron to Akrotiri meant that disbandment of the unit, planned originally for next March, has been postponed by a year. It’s the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II that will eventually replace the Tornado in the Royal Air Force, with the Royal Navy also set to use the new fighter.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Middle East rebels “save” British Tornados

A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 assigned to the IX Bomber Squadron from Royal Air Force Station Marham, United Kingdom, takes off during Red Flag 14-1, 28 January 2014 (Image © Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler / USAF)
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 from Royal Air Force Station Marham, United Kingdom, takes off during Red Flag 14-1, 28 January 2014 (Image © Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler / USAF)

The Royal Air Force’s No 2 Squadron, flying the quickly aging Panavia Tornado GR4 interdictor strike aircraft, has gotten life support from an unexpected corner of the world: the same so-called Islamic State (ISIS) rebels some of the unit’s aircraft and crew are currently trying to decimate in the Syrian and Iraqi landscape.

The officially 16 aircraft of the unit based at RAF Marham, Norfolk, England, were destined to become scrap metal as of March next year, but British prime minister David Cameron confirmed on 1 October 2014 that has now been postponed by a year. It means good news for the GR4 crews and fans, but it also shines a light on the less-then-readiness of the Typhoon that should take up the combat role of the Tornado. Apparently not only the German Air Force is suffering greatly from technical problems, but the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighters seem also less than available to do a flexible job.

Mr. Cameron’s office however, has a plain explanation: “The Typhoon was primarily designed for aerial combat and patrolling our airspace.” In the near future the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will be tasked to take up the Tornado’s role, but despite more than 100 of the new stealthy fighter have been produced none is combat ready.

Meanwhile a fourth pair of Tornado GR4s have been sent to RAF Base Akrotiri at Cyprus to join the six already there to fight ISIS in Iraq, including providing air support to Kurdish forces on the ground with laser guided bombs (Paveway IV) and missiles (Brimstone). The mission is supported by 300 personnel at the Mediterranean island.

No 2 Squadron is now planned to be decommissioned in April 2016, but as British government officials have said that fighting the ISIS rebels might take another three years, extra years of life support to the Marham based Tornados looks eminent.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Luftwaffe future plans: beware of our Tornados

No stopping however for this Tornado. Wings fully back, low, fast and loud - as seen at Laage airbase in 2005. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
No stopping however for this Tornado. Wings fully back, low, fast and loud – as seen at Laage airbase in 2005.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

LATEST UPDATE 5 OCTOBER 2014 (CORRECTION TORNADOS IN SERVICE) | With the current availability disaster of the German Air Force new Eurofighter EF2000s, with often less than a dozen fully combat ready and some grounded for literally years in a row, the Luftwaffe decided to plan for the future with an aging lady developed during the heights of the Cold War: beware of the Panavia Tornado.

While the Royal Air Force is planning to decommission its last Tornado in 2019, the air forces of Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia aim for 2025 for their machines. But the Luftwaffe is already looking beyond that time frame, possibly fearing that the new Eurofighters won’t make a credible stand for years to come due to the lack of funds and technical issues.

Officially the Luftwaffe swept-wing aircraft are of the types interdictor strike (IDS) and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). But with the lack of other available air assets after the retirement of the Vietnam era F-4 Phantom II, the aircraft that was meant to bomb and fly low might in stead have to go for the high ground with air-to-air missiles to protect Germany’s airspace against a much more active Russian bear than a decade ago, while retaining its active attack status. That means a lot of work for the aircraft that just turned 40 (SEE OUR SPECIAL).

A German Air Force Tornado engaging US Marines on the ground in a training village near Mountain Home AFB during exercise Mountain Roundup 2013. (Image Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace © USAF)
A German Air Force Tornado engaging US Marines on the ground in a training village near Mountain Home AFB during exercise Mountain Roundup 2013. (Image Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace © USAF)

Germany’s future plans are great for Airbus Military, inaugurating its new Tornado overhaul and maintenance facility at Ingolstadt-Manching Airbase this Spring. There 85 of the Luftwaffe’s officially 89 old ladies will be upgraded to the new ASSTA-3.1 standard, with a max. capacity of servicing a total of 20 aircraft at a time. The servicing is much needed, at the end of September only 36 Tornados were fully combat ready.

The new standard will give the Tornado navigator, sitting in the back, three multifunctional colour displays connected to the Link-16 (MIDS) information sharing protocol. With Link-16 aircraft can share each others stuff, including AWACS radar images to fighter jets.

Moreover ASSTA-3.1 will improve the self-defense suite, communications, a modern VHF/UHF radio (Saturn) and a digital video and data recorder. The upgrade will also see the addition of Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM), to give the Tornado better precision-guided weaponry.

While the Luftwaffe still hopes to have newer aircraft (read: the Eurofighter EF2000) fully available in 2025, it has quietly started planning to keep at least one or two squadrons of Tornados on strength way beyond that date. One almost starts to wonder if it isn’t time for Berlin to lease a bunch of second-hand but much newer and more economic American-made Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds or easy-to-maintain-easy-to-fly SAAB JAS 39 Gripens.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

German Air Force Tornado ECR in nice camo in 2011 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
German Air Force Tornado ECR in nice camo in 2011 (Image © Dennis Spronk)