UK quadruples strength in region while Australia also contributes squadron of fighters to build-up for possible conflict

Australia and the UK are to deploy significant numbers of aircraft to the Gulf as part of the build-up to a possible US-led attack on Iraq. The USA has already committed significant numbers of aircraft.

The number of Royal Air Force aircraft is to increase to around 100. Typically, there are 25 RAF aircraft participating in the Northern Watch and Southern Watch "no fly" operations over Iraq.

Deployed aircraft will comprise Panavia Tornado GR4As and Sepecat Jaguar GR3s for reconnaissance; air defence Tornado F3s; BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier GR7s and Tornado GR4s for offensive missions; Boeing Sentry AEW1 airborne command and control platforms; Lockheed MartinC-130 Hercules transports; and BAC VC10 and Lockheed TriStar in-flight refuelling tankers. The RAF is also contributing 27 Boeing Chinook HC2/A and Westland Puma HC1 support helicopters.

Defence sources say around three-quarters of the fixed-wing fleet will be combat aircraft and the rest support platforms. The UK Ministry of Defence declines to reveal where the aircraft will be based, but combat aircraft supporting on-going operations are based in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and Thumrait in Oman.

Australia, meanwhile, has committed 14 Boeing F/A-18 Hornets and three C-130Hercules aircraft. It has also earmarked CH-47s to support Australian special forces in the region. The Australian and UK forces will bolster the 113,000 US servicemen already there.

The USAir Force has almost 300 aircraft located around Iraq, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates hosting USAF aircraft. Deployed aircraft include Boeing F-15C, Fairchild A-10, and Lockheed Martin F-16CJ fighters; Northrop Grumman E-8J STARS airborne ground surveillance platforms; Boeing KC-135 tankers; C-130s; and Rockwell B-1 and Boeing B-52 bombers.

The US Navy has three carrier battlegroups and seven amphibious assault ships deployed. The US Army's XVIII Airborne Corps is in the region equipped with Bell OH-58 scouts, Boeing AH-64D Apaches and CH-47s and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.

Source: Flight International