Jon Lake – On 31 January 2019, the RAF Tornado Force flew its final operational sortie on Operation Shader – the UK element of the international campaign against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State group).
Two Panavia Tornado GR.Mk4s took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and conducted what was described as an uneventful patrol over Syria, which lasted six and a half hours. No weapons were dropped on the sortie, which was tasked as an armed overwatch mission. This marked the end of the type’s operational flying career.
The weapons capabilities previously provided by the Tornado are now being delivered by the Eurofighter Typhoon. The MBDA Storm Shadow CASOM (conventionally armed stand off missile) and the Brimstone precision attack missile were integrated on Typhoon under ‘Project Centurion’.
The last weapon released by a Tornado on Operation Shader was a Raytheon Paveway IV, dropped on Saturday 26 January, when a pair of Tornados bombed five Daesh positions north-east of Abu Kamal in Syria. These positions had all been used by terrorists engaged in firefights with the Syrian Democratic Forces. This marked the last Tornado operational strike.
The last mission using the Goodrich RAPTOR DB110 reconnaissance pod was flown the following day, on 27 January. These missions were the culmination of 30,000 hours flown by the Tornado on Operation Shader, during which the type dropped nearly 2,000 weapons, including Storm Shadow cruise missiles, Dual Mode Brimstone and Brimstone 2 precision attack missiles, and Enhanced Paveway II, Paveway III, and Paveway IV PGMs, and fired the internal 27-mm Mauser cannon. The eight RAF Tornado GR.Mk 4s that have been deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, returned to RAF Marham on 4th and 5th February.
Operation Shader began on 26 September 2014, following a formal request for assistance by the Iraqi government. Tornado GR.Mk4s had already been deployed for ISR missions, using their Rafael Litening III targeting pods to help co-ordinate RAF airdrops of humanitarian relief. Armed sorties over Iraq began on 26 September, and the first airstrike took place on 30 September 2014.
Six Tornado GR4s were stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus initially, forming the offensive backbone of No.903 Expeditionary Air Wing. Two further Tornados were deployed on 3 October 2014, bringing the total number of combat aircraft deployed on Operation Shader to eight. From October 2014 the Tornados were augmented by MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aerial vehicles, operating from Ali-Al Salem airbase in Kuwait.
The Tornados began attacking Daesh targets in Syria on 2 December 2015, and six Eurofighter Typhoons were deployed to bolster the force.
Air Marshall Stu Atha, the RAF’s DCOM Ops (Deputy Commander, Operations) told Armada that, apart from a brief eighteen day period in 2009, the Tornado Force had been continually deployed on operations since August 1990, including missions in the Gulf, the Balkans, and Afghanistan.
“An aircraft designed in the Cold War has been used in a succession of hot wars,” Atha said. “And for the last four and a half years it has been operating in the most challenging operational environment.”
by Jon Lake