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UK to delay next Tornado squadron retirement

All three of the Royal Air Force’s current Panavia Tornado GR4-equipped frontline squadrons will continue to operate the strike aircraft for the immediate future, after the UK government reversed a decision to disband one of the units early next year.

Prime Minister David Cameron on 3 October confirmed that 2 Sqn – based at RAF Marham in Norfolk – will continue to operate the Tornado GR4 until March 2016. It had previously been expected to stand down in March 2015, following the completion of the UK’s combat involvement in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

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The RAF’s Tornado force also includes Marham-based 9 and 31 squadrons, plus its 15 Sqn operational conversion unit for the type, at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. The service’s current active fleet totals some 79 examples, as recorded by Flightglobal’s MiliCAS database.

Two squadrons – 12 and 617 – were disbanded in March 2014, as part of a phased reduction of the Tornado GR4 fleet. However, a recent increase in demand for the type’s strike and reconnaissance capabilities had prompted senior officials to question the scheduled removal of 2 Sqn next year.

Eight of the UK’s aircraft are currently supporting a US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, with further examples also operating from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan and also providing reconnaissance services in Nigeria.

RAF use of the Tornado is currently expected to conclude during the 2018/19 financial year, with the type to be replaced by the UK’s future fleet of short take-off and vertical landing Lockheed Martin F-35Bs.

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