Panavia Tornado GR4 ground-attack aircraft have made a "seamless transition" in replacing the UK's BAE Systems Harrier GR9As on operations in Afghanistan, the Royal Air Force says.

Eight GR4s began supporting coalition operations from Kandahar airfield in July, and the UK recently made its first personnel rotation, replacing air and ground crew drawn from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland with those from Marham in Norfolk.

In addition to "easily stepping up to the mark" during the first Afghan elections during August, the RAF says the GR4 force has also brought new capabilities in the battle against the Taliban. These include the Goodrich Raptor reconnaissance pod, which is being used to counter the threat posed by improvised explosive devices, and MBDA's dual-mode Brimstone missile.

Panavia Tornado GR4
 © Crown Copyright

The RAF has detailed its first combat use of the newly upgraded weapon, which weighs roughly 50kg (110lb). A Tornado fired one of the missiles at a Taliban insurgent who was firing on coalition troops from a so-called "murder hole" carved within the wall of a compound. It scored a direct hit, destroying only a 1.5m (5ft) section of wall and without causing collateral damage to surrounding buildings.

An RAF source describes the new weapon as "a massive success", adding: "It is incredibly accurate". The missile is also capable of striking moving ground targets, the source adds.

The RAF/Royal Navy Joint Force Harrier organisation flew over 8,500 sorties from Kandahar between September 2004 and earlier this year.

Source: Flight International