The extension of the UK’s operations against Islamic State militants into Syria has seen an additional two Panavia Tornado GR4s deployed to the Royal Air Force's Akrotiri base in Cyprus, plus a new deployment of six Eurofighter Typhoons.
A decision to begin air strikes in Syria was made by the House of Commons on 2 December, which led to a subsequent deployment of the additional Tornados – which have joined the eight-strong fleet already based in the region. Alongside the Typhoons, these have doubled the RAF’s fighter capability in Iraq and Syria.
The UK has been operating in Iraq under the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve since September 2014, but until early December only carried out surveillance missions in Syria to support the USA and France. Both have been targeting Raqqa – considered the IS headquarters – in Syria.
The first RAF strike in Syria since the positive vote took place on 3 December, just hours after the mission extension was approved, with a Tornado dropping Raytheon Systems Paveway IV precision-guided bombs on six targets at the Omar Oilfield in Syria, which the UK Ministry of Defence says is a primary source of income for IS.
This mission was supported by an AirTanker Airbus A330 Voyager in-flight refuelling aircraft and a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicle, plus other coalition aircraft, the MoD says.
During a 4 December mission, a Typhoon carried out the first strike since being committed to the UK's Operation Shader, using Paveway IVs against further targets in Omar. This marked the first deployment of the type with the 226kg (500lb)-class weapon (two pictured in below image).
Tornados had previously been providing all of the UK’s manned air-to-ground attack contribution in Iraq, and a delayed retirement until March 2017 of the RAF’s 12 Sqn in August, allowed the type to continue operating until the Typhoon was able to fully take over this role.
Some 800 British personnel are deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Shader, the MoD says, with the RAF gathering 60% of the US-led coalition’s tactical surveillance in Iraq and 30% in Syria.
RAF aircraft operating in the region in addition to the Reaper, Tornado and Voyager include the Raytheon Sentinel R1 and Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft, and the Lockheed Martin C-130J transport.
Meanwhile, Germany also made a parliamentary decision on 4 December to provide support to the coalition effort, offering 1,200 personnel, six Tornados, refuelling aircraft and a frigate.
Germany’s Tornados are to be deployed in a surveillance configuration, because the parliament's approval did not cover air strikes.