The RAF has been putting six Tornado GR.4 aircraft and their crews from No.31 Squadron through the gruelling two-week-long exercise, Frisian Flag 2017, which was held at Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands. Beginning on March 27th and culminating on April 7th, the large scale exercise saw aircraft from several NATO members get airborne twice a day for a series of mock battles which saw the RAF aircraft act as the Red Force – the bad guys.
The primary purpose of Frisian Flag 2017, as well as honing combat skills, was to provide the participating units experience in combined NATO operations within a modern threat environment. The RAF Tornado GR.4s were joined by USAF F-15 Eagles, French Mirage 2000s, German Typhoons and an assortment of F-16 variants from several NATO countries. Missions undertaken included air defence and escort missions for the fighter aircraft while strike aircraft such as the Tornados were assigned to attack high priority ground targets and conduct defence suppression operations.
Wing Commander Matt Bressani of No.31 Squadron said;
Working with NATO countries helps us to better understand our own strengths and weaknesses by testing each other’s defences. With the Tornado GR4 going out of service in a few years’ time, this is an ideal opportunity to train our crews for their future beyond this air frame.
The last Tornado GR.4 is expected to be withdrawn from frontline service in 2019 with much of its strike tasking being undertaken by upgraded Typhoons. The Ministry of Defence has also said that the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II will be stepped up in order to create an additional frontline RAF squadron by 2023.
The United States Air Force is hosting a multi-national exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia dubbed Atlantic Trident 17. The exercise will begin on April 12th and will continue until the 28th. It will be hosted by the resident 1st Fighter Wing of the USAF equipped with the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter.
British and French combat aircraft will participate in the exercise in the form of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s and Dassault Rafales respectively. The RAF have committed 175 personnel to the exercise with the first contingent having already arrived. Among the US aircraft deployed will be a number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs which the RAF has on order in its Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) F-35B Lightning II guise along with the Royal Navy.
The exercise will be focused around combat experience the three air arms have gained over Syria and Iraq in recent years but will add an airborne threat element which the pilots will have to defeat in order to complete their strike missions.
USAF Colonel Peter Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander said in a press conference;
This exercise was designed to encourage the sharing and development of air combat TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) with our French and UK partners, against a range of potential threats leveraging US Air Force fifth-generation capabilities. This is not only an opportunity to share the capabilities of the aircraft, pilots and maintainers between our nations, but to build friendship, trust and confidence that will improve our interoperability as we go forward.
Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from the Royal Air Force’s No.3 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby are set to be deployed to Romania. Four aircraft and up to 150 personnel (air and ground crew) will be based at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in south east Romania for up to four months beginning on May 1st as part of NATO’s southern air policing mission.
The announcement was made by the British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon who confirmed that Prime Minister Theresa May had sanctioned the deployment in an effort to reassure the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe who are now members of NATO that the alliance remains committed to their protection. The deployment is speculated to be in response to an increase in Russian air activity over the Black Sea that has kept the Romanian Air Force busy.
Fallon has said;
The UK is stepping up its support for NATO’s collective defence from the north to the south of the alliance. With this deployment, RAF planes will be ready to secure NATO airspace and provide reassurance to our allies in the Black Sea region.
The RAF has had a long history patrolling NATO’s border with Russia having led four deployments of fighter aircraft as part of the alliance’s Baltic air policing mission since 2004. In those instances the aircraft have largely been the sole air defence asset for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, Romania has its own fighter force built around the MiG-21 LanceR – an upgraded version of the legendary but increasingly ageing MiG-21 “Fishbed”. The fare more modern RAF aircraft will have to integrate in to Romania’s air defence network.
Romania will also host a large scale NATO exercise in July that U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm said last week would include up to 30,000 NATO troops.
The deployment comes as news reports circulate in both Romania and Russia that Russian inspectors have today visited a military site in Romania to confirm it is no longer operational. The inspection is being carried out under the provisions of the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and while the location of the inspection has not been disclosed the Romanian Defence Minister insists that the inspection is a “normal” undertaking in relations between the two countries.
Representatives of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command based at Patuxent River Naval Air Station announced last week that a $68.4 million order has been placed with Boeing for the initial parts needed to start construction of the first four P-8A Poseidon aircraft destined for the RAF. The RAF has nine Poseidons on order which will restore the service’s independent maritime patrol and anti-submarine capability which it has lacked since the retirement of the Nimrod MR.2 and the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA.4 in 2010.
The P-8 is a militarised version of the Boeing 737 airliner and is optimised for the maritime patrol role featuring a stronger structure and the ability to carry weapons. At the heart of the mission system is the APS-137D(V)5 radar which provides Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capabilities for imaging stationary vessels as well as conducting coastal and overland surveillance. It also has high-resolution Imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) for imaging surfaced submarines and fast surface vessels operating in coastal waters where surface clutter is high.
The withdrawal of the Nimrod has forced the RAF to rely on the Royal Navy’s vessels and their helicopters for the maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine roles. However this was proven to be woefully inefficient and left the UK’s coastlines extremely vulnerable causing the MoD to embarrassingly have to ask for help from NATO allies on a number of occasions.
An RAF Griffin HT.1 helicopter has burst into flames after being forced to land on a Snowdonia peak with technical problems. The aircraft was operating out of RAF Valley and was carrying five crewmembers none of whom were hurt in the incident.
The emergency services were alerted to the scene by walkers who had spotted the smoke and flames sending firefighters, police and mountain rescue teams from Llanberis, Ogwen Valley and Aberglaslyn to the scene. An air ambulance and HM Coast Guard helicopter were dispatched to the scene as a precautionary measure while the air space above the scene was restricted to other aircraft.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the aircraft was involved in a search and rescue training exercise at the time of the incident. The Griffin HT.1s based at Valley are part of the Search and Rescue Training Unit (SARTU).
In northern Iraq, intelligence had located a large truck-bomb factory near Mosul and two RAF Tornado GR4s armed with 1000lb Enhanced Paveway II guided bombs were tasked with its destruction. The attack took place on June 6th and involved a single Enhanced Paveway II laser guided bomb. As you can see from the footage the attack was devastating.