RAF to maintain ‘tempo’ of coalition commitment

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Service racks up the hours in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan

The UK Royal Air Force will continue to maintain a high tempo of combat and reconnaissance operations as part of coalition activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the commander of joint operations at the Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Joint Headquarters and future chief of the air staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy.

Six Panavia Tornado GR4s are currently deployed to Iraq and the type has now amassed over 3,400 flight hours there since the end of the 2003 Gulf War, Torpy told a meeting of the UK’s Air Power Association in London on 28 October.

This total builds on the approximately 90,000 flying hours logged by RAF aircraft over Iraq’s no-fly zones during the 30,000 sorties flown between the two Gulf Wars, he says.

Some 80% of the GR4’s current missions are conducted in support of the land forces, with the aircraft providing intelligence and close air-support services, says Torpy. BAe Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft have also flown over 800 sorties in theatre since the end of the campaign’s combat phase, during which they have provided overland reconnaissance information via datalinked sensors.

Additional fixed-wing air force aircraft supporting operations in Iraq include Boeing C-17, Lockheed Martin C-130, Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 transports.

The RAF is also continuing to maintain a contingent of six BAE Systems Harrier GR7 ground-attack aircraft at Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan, and these have flown over 1,400 missions and deployed weapons including CRV-7 rockets and other air-to-surface munitions on several occasions since the deployment began in August 2004. The UK has also committed additional Nimrod MR2s and English Electric Canberra PR9 photo-reconnaissance aircraft to the region, with the latter especially involved in the support of counter-narcotics operations.

“Iraq is very much main effort, but Afghanistan is set to be increasingly important,” says Torpy, who will in May 2006 succeed Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup in holding the CAS position. Stirrup was earlier this year named as the UK’s next chief of the defence staff.

CRAIG HOYLE/LONDON