UK have decided to enter the fight against the “IS” and have nominated 6 Tornado FGA 4 aircraft that have been on detachment at Akrotiri probably from RAF Marham. The aircraft, flight crews and ground crews will be tired as they have been working quite hard for the last 3 months with reconnaissance and support for humanitarian air drops. Why 6 only, I hear you say? It is because that is all we can scrape together for now!
The Panavia Tornado celebrates its 40th birthday this year, it has been written down in the MOD books to zero although the maintenance, modification and operating costs are in access of 1 million pounds per aircraft per year. The UK government keep threatening to retire the aircraft and the date has now slipped from 2019 to a possible 2030, although two squadrons did get the “chain saw“ treatment earlier in the year. Notwithstanding this situation the RAF Tornados are one of the best weapon platforms on earth. It can be equipped with an array of weapons that other aircraft designers can only dream about. Air launched cruise missiles and the famous Paveway-IV (bunker busters) spring to mind. The one major problem with this aircraft is that it’s not stealth (this refers to the radar footprint of the aircraft and the Tornado footprint is big), and therefore presents itself to hostile radar as an easy target despite its excellent high speed terrain following capability.
Let’s look at some facts;
The UK has 72 Tornados not counting those on maintenance; they are up to 40 years old and are highly modified. They consist of 3 squadrons, 2 of which are rotated in Afghanistan, and the other picks up the “odd jobs”. As said before, the UK continually threaten to retire them.
The UK has 85 Eurofighters known as Typhoons, plus those on maintenance. Many more are on order. These are exclaimed as the best combat aircraft in the world, and cost 125 million pounds each. They are not stealth and cannot perform all the roles that the Tornado can. UK finds it difficult to commit them to war zones in case the loose a few! The Spanish have successfully crashed 2 and the Germans lost one only last week when it collided with a biz-jet, and so I have to suspect it’s not as good as we are led to believe.
The UK Royal Navy‘s Fleet Air Arm have no combat aircraft at all! They are waiting for the new US built F-35. This aircraft has had many years delay in getting into service and will not be ready for a number of years yet. It has extremely poor write ups from celebrated designers in the industry.