RAF Nimrods ready for operational return

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Royal Air Force British Aerospace Nimrod MR2 surveillance aircraft will be ready to resume their support for coalition operations in theatres such as Afghanistan soon, with urgent modifications to the type having almost been completed.

“We are in really good shape, which is allowing us to support operations in the UK, and also start contemplating a return to the Middle East,” says Gp Capt Robbie Noel, station commander of RAF Kinloss, home base for the MR2 fleet. “If a requirement exists then I anticipate we would be ready to deploy in the summer,” he adds.

“As of today we’ve got seven [aircraft] ready for flight,” says Noel. An eighth is undergoing urgent work to replace its engine hot air ducts as part of a fleet-wide safety modification, and will be available for operations by late June. Three more are in scheduled depth maintenance.

 
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

RAF Nimrods were withdrawn from the Middle East region by late March to receive new hot air ducts and replacement fuel seals. The combined faults contributed to the loss of Nimrod XV230 and 14 lives over southern Afghanistan in September 2006, when a catastrophic fire broke out immediately after inflight refuelling.

A return to the skies above Afghanistan is the most likely deployment for the Nimrod force, although other options could include supporting international anti-piracy activities off the Horn of Africa. Noel says no plans exist for the latter mission at this time, and cautions: “We are extremely busy, and anti-submarine warfare remains our main effort. We would not deploy unless we can satisfy our commitments in the UK.”

The RAF is meanwhile beginning activities to transition personnel from the MR2 to BAE Systems’ replacement Nimrod MRA4, with a first training course – for those who will instruct future trainers – to commence on 22 June.

The MRA4 is scheduled to achieve an in-service date of December 2010 with the availability of four aircraft and four trained aircrews, with the first airframe to arrive at Kinloss next February. MR2 operations will cease on 31 March 2011, and asked whether use of the type could be extended further, Noel says: “I think it’s extremely unlikely”.

The Nimrod force is disappointed by a decision to limit the MRA4 fleet to just nine aircraft (development example pictured below), he says. “With nine we will still be able to do the job for the UK and also deploy. But we will have to tailor our commitments accordingly, and there may be a limit on what we can do. We could have used 12 and deployed more.”

 
© BAE Systems

Noel spoke to Flight International during a 3 June launch event for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). The Kinloss-based 42 Sqn operational conversion unit supported the event by flying aircraft XV255 to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire after completing an approximately 90min training sortie.

“Sea Search” is one of the three focus topics for this year’s RIAT event, which will be held at Fairford from 18-19 July. The others will commemorate the centenary of UK Royal Navy aviation activities, and the 60th anniversary of NATO.