The UK Royal Air Force’s Panavia Tornado GR4s are to assume a new mission from early next year, with the type to replace a detachment of BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9 ground-attack aircraft which has been based at Afghanistan’s Kandahar airfield since November 2004.

Announcing the move on 16 June, UK defence secretary Des Browne described Joint Force Harrier’s provision of close air support services in Afghanistan (below) as "Amongst the most potent of all our capabilities in deterring and denying the insurgency.”

Sea Harrier in Afghanistan W445 
© Crown Copyright

But noting: “I am very mindful of the strain that this extended deployment has put upon the crews, their families and the wider roles of Joint Force Harrier,” Browne said: “I have therefore decided to withdraw the Harrier force by spring 2009 and to replace them with an equivalent force of Tornado GR4s.”

 Tornado GR4
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

The decision to deploy Tornados in the place of the Harrier confirms a move away from an earlier proposal to send the RAF’s new Eurofighter Typhoons to Kandahar. It also places added pressure on the service’s GR4 community (617 Sqn aircraft pictured above), which is currently manning a long-running commitment to support coalition operations in Iraq from Qatar’s Al Udeid air base.