Four additional Panavia Tornado GR4s assigned to NATO's operation Unified Protector landed at Gioia del Colle air base in Italy on 18 July, increasing the UK Royal Air Force's commitment of the type to 16.

The aircraft touched down four days after the UK Ministry of Defence had announced its intention to expand the Tornado GR4 force operating in support of the international campaign to protect civilians in Libya.

 Tornado GR4 Gioia - Crown Copyright
© Crown Copyright

Flown from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, the Tornados are crewed by personnel from the service's 2 Sqn, which is home-based at Marham in Norfolk, England. The unit has been flying missions over Libya since May, and the MoD said it has engaged "hundreds of targets" during this time.

"The arrival of the additional GR4s will be a considerable boost to the already potent combat intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] capability that the Tornado GR Force brings to Operation Ellamy," Wg Cdr Nick Tucker-Lowe, officer commanding 2 Sqn, said.

The additional aircraft are primarily intended to provide increased reconnaissance services to NATO using their Goodrich Raptor pods (pictured below, beneath fuselage).

Tornado GR4 Raptor - Crown Copyright 
© Crown Copyright

However, they also have a secondary strike role, typically carrying two Raytheon Systems Paveway IV 226kg (500lb) precision-guided bombs while performing ISR activities.

A second Tornado would accompany a reconnaissance-configured aircraft, with this carrying Paveway IVs, three MBDA dual-mode Brimstone air-to-surface missiles and a Rafael Litening III targeting pod.

In addition to its now 16 Tornados, the 906th EAW also has six Eurofighter Typhoons assigned to it. These are flown by 3 Sqn pilots from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England.

The RAF also currently has another eight of its Tornado GR4s performing combat operations in Afghanistan.

Source: Flight International