End of an era as Tornado OCU disbands

Panavia Tornado OCU RAF Lossiemouth disbandment ceremony

The Royal Air Force Tornado Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), XV(R) Squadron, formally disbanded yesterday in a moving ceremony at RAF Lossiemouth. Led by the Band of the Royal Air Force College, the ceremony was held inside inside a hangar in front of 750 invited guests including families and associates of the squadron.

During the ceremony, Chief of Defence Intelligence Air Marshal Phil Osborn, who himself had served as a Tornado navigator said to the attendees;

I’m honoured and privileged to be here for the disbandment of XV(R) Squadron after its 102 years of loyal service. But today, whilst our feelings obviously include sadness we know that this magnificent event is also a celebration; a celebration of history and tradition, and of service and professionalism in the service of the nation.

XV (or No.15) Squadron has a long and proud history that can be traced back to the First World War. It was formed as a training unit at Farnborough on March 1st 1915 but crossed to France in December 1915 equipped with the BE2c for corps-reconnaissance duties over the Western Front. One unusual task the unit undertook was the dropping of ammunition by parachute to troops on the front line during 1918.

During the Second World War the squadron flew a series of bomber types such as the Fairey Battle, Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster. After the war, the squadron became one of the handful of RAF units to fly the Boeing Washington (RAF B-29 Superfortress). On April 1st 1992, the XV (Reserve) identity was transferred to the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit at RAF Honington before the unit moved to RAF Lossiemouth in 1993.


Below is a TV documentary recorded in the late 2000s outlining the squadron’s work in training RAF Tornado GR.4 crews.

Image: RAF via Facebook

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ITV’s “Strike Force”

This article was originally published in March 2015 however due to the interest many people had in it I got in contact with one of the lead actors of the program, Tim Bentinck, and asked him if he would provide some more behind the scenes information. He kindly agreed and so I have reuploaded it including Tim’s contribution which you can find below.


In the early 1990s, Yorkshire Television began negotiations with the RAF to produce a TV movie which would serve as a pilot (no pun intended) for a future series. At the time the series Soldier, Soldier was doing wonders for the British Army’s recruitment and PR image as well as being a high ratings winner for ITV. Both the RAF and ITV hoped to repeat this success with Strike Force.

The story revolved around the formation of an elite team of Tornado F.3 aircrews within the fictional No.555 Squadron. At the same time a secondary story concerned an incident involving the loss of a Tornado over Bosnia to a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile and the subsequent covering up by the pilot involved. The show was also meant to deal with attitudes towards women flying fast-jets and the stresses of military service on the crews and their families.

Strike Force aired in 1995 but sadly was not a great success. Interest proved far below what was hoped and consequently the series was never picked up. To date the film is not available on DVD and has disappeared in to ITV’s archives but a few clips have surfaced on the internet in recent years.


The following is an extract from Tim Bentinck’s autobiography – Being David Archer–and other unusual ways of making a living – which is due to be released later this year. It is used in this article with direct permission from him and I would like to thank him for this kind contribution.

I was very nearly a pilot. When I was at school, I imagined my future either doing what my Pa did, advertising, or flying planes. I flew light aircraft with the CCF and got Flight magazine monthly. My favourite reading was about Spitfires and Hurricanes and I seriously considered joining the RAF for a while. The appeal of flying never left though, and when I landed this part, it was as though it had been written by my guardian angel.

Wing Commander Jonathan Raikes was “awesome in the air,” as one of my pilots put it. Bliss. I so nearly blew it though. Having got the job, two weeks before filming I was meeting Judy in a pub in London for my birthday when some bastard smashed a pint beer glass full in my face. I was millimetres away from  being blinded in one eye and my face was cut to bits. I had to go up to Manchester to show the producers the damage. I remember standing in a hotel car park as the two execs peered at my lacerations.

“No, I don’t think we’ll have to re-cast.” Phew, but it meant I spent hours in make-up every morning and was the palest fast jet pilot you’ve ever seen.

The ‘Strike Force’ would be an elite group of Tornado pilots trained to instantly answer the call to scramble anywhere in Europe, based in Cyprus. This pilot episode (yes, we did that joke to death) was about the selection for the team. I was the boss. If the pilot episode was successful it would go to series – like Soldier Soldier in the air, so we were all very keen to make it work. We filmed it on location at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, and we pilots met up on a train at King’s Cross. We’d clearly all had the same idea – look butch. Leather jackets, shades, stubble and mono-syllabic grunts failed to cover the fact that we were all like excited schoolchildren, let loose with millions of pounds worth of toys.

We were “555 Squadron” and, amazingly, as we wandered around the base in uniform, the real RAF would fire off salutes and call us ‘sir’. One day we were lounging in the mess room and one of our number, a delicate soul, came in flapping and saying,

“Oh my God I’ve just been saluted!”

We, butch as hell and Ray-banned to the nines, said,

“Yes, and what did you do?”

“I went Aaaaaaaaahhahaahahhaaaa!!!”

“Nooooooo!”

We very nearly all died. We were filming in a stationary Tornado just off the main runway with me fully togged up in the pilot’s seat, when the Queen’s flight took off in formation for a fly-past over Buckingham Palace. The leading plane got a sudden complete engine failure, and in order to miss him, the plane behind pulled up and to the left, heading straight for us. Someone was filming it on a camcorder and when we looked back at the footage, its wing can’t have missed us by more than a foot. “Not ideal,” as they say in the forces.

I was invited to follow the real Wing Commander around on his duties, to get the style of the man and see how it was really done. We went into the ‘hard’ bomb-proof shelter for a briefing and instead of introducing me as “the actor prat who’s pretending to be me,” he said, “this is Wing Commander Raikes, O.C. 555 Squadron”. I left the briefing walking on air. He offered to take me up for a flight but the insurance wouldn’t cover it. I’d practiced for hours at home on a Tornado computer game, but when it came to the simple matter of shooting down a Russian MIG with cannon on the training sim – a computer in an office – I was dead meat within seconds. However I did get to actually land the full size simulator – real cockpit, full G-kit and helmet, talking to the ops room, they talked me down – and I didn’t crash it, which made it easier to play the part.

It didn’t go to series. The problem with pilot episodes like these is they try to cram too much in. The RAF wanted it to be a recruiting film, and kept changing the lines to make it accurate but dull, and the writer wanted to fit everyone’s back story into an hour, so there were about four storylines going on at the same time. The result was laudable but messy, the flying shots were great and it would have got better – good actors and great potential. We heard that the caterers had been booked for Cyprus, but that was it, it was broadcast but never picked up.

Incredibly, ITV would almost repeat history when it tried to make a drama about life aboard a Royal Navy destroyer in 2004 called Making Waves which suffered a similar fate.

 

RAPTOR pod too big for Typhoon

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RAPTOR pod on centreline (commons.wikimedia)

As the RAF’s plans to finally phase out its Panavia Tornado GR.4 force in favour of the Eurofighter Typhoon progress ahead, details have emerged that one asset the Tornado has that will not be transferred over is the Tornado’s RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for TORnado) pod. RAPTOR is a stand-off electro-optical and Infrared long-range oblique-photograpic reconnaissance pod which is capable of producing high-resolution images and then transmitting them via a real-time data-link to image analysts at a ground station. The pod entered service in 2001 and has seen valuable use over Iraq during Operation Telic and continues to be used in operations against Daesh-ISIS.

However, the RAPTOR pod has proven too heavy and too large to fit on the optimum centerline station of the Typhoon; the undercarriage doors are in the way. This has meant that the pod will now have to be retired with the Tornado force but the capabilities it offers may not be lost with the Typhoon. UTA Aerospace Systems (UTAS) has proposed adapting the Typhoon’s centerline fuel tank to carry an improved version of the RAPTOR’s camera and datalink equipment. Christened Fast Jet Pod 2 (FJP2), it could alternatively house the tactical synthetic aperture radar (TacSAR) that UTAS announced was being jointly developed with Leonardo (then Selex Galileo) at the 2014 Farnborough airshow.

The question remains however; how important is manned aerial reconnaissance to the British military in the 21st century? The British armed forces have recently made great strides towards increasing their unmanned tactical reconnaissance and strike assets with the Royal Navy having just completed possibly the most comprehensive unmanned systems exercise in the world namely Unmanned Warrior 2016.

Unmanned systems have all the capability advantages of a pod such as RAPTOR carried by a manned aircraft but has the added advantage of eliminating the risk to aircrew. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones have proven themselves in the fight against global terrorism but in a modern conflict where there would be hostile air activity they are exceptionally vulnerable to interception. On December 23rd 2002, an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a US RQ-1 Predator drone which reportedly opened fire on the MiG with a Stinger missile but failed to hit it. Proponents of manned reconnaissance platforms claim that an aircraft such as Typhoon has a greater chance of defending itself in the face of a dense threat environment and can also carry weapons to immediately attack targets of opportunity should they detect them with their reconnaissance equipment.

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UTAS has already produced a downsized version of RAPTOR centered around the pod’s DB-110 system for use on aircraft in the F-16 class and this is also an option for the RAF’s Typhoon.

Typhoon a step closer to replacing Tornado GR.4 as RAF’s primary strike platform

royal-air-force-raf-typhoon-fgr-4-eurofighter-panavia-tornado-gr-4British Aerospace (BAE) and Eurofighter have announced that the next phase of upgrades and enhancements to the RAF’s fleet of Typhoons has entered the operational evaluation stage. The improvements are aimed at allowing the Typhoon fleet to adopt not only the full range of strike and reconnaissance capabilities the Tornado GR.4 is capable of but also improve upon them. The enhancements will also see the initial integration of the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile (BVRAAM) and the Storm Shadow stand-off Air to Surface weapon.

Operating under the guise of Project Centurion, the MoD and the RAF are confident that the Typhoon will be ready to fully replace the venerable Tornado GR.4 by 2018. The Eurofighter consortium issued a press release earlier this week outlining the next phase of the project.

Phase 1 Enhancements Further Work (P1Eb FW) is an evolution of the current Tranche 2 Typhoon aircraft in service with the UK. The P1Eb standard Typhoons entered service last year.

P1Eb FW is the first part of the UK’s Project CENTURION, the package of enhancements which aims to deliver a seamless transition of capability from Tornado to Typhoon by the end of 2018.

The upgrades will bring numerous new capabilities, including additional Human-Machine Interface technologies and additions to the aircraft’s Air to Surface targeting capability.

P1Eb FW has successfully undergone trial installation and Operational Evaluation with 41 Squadron, the Royal Air Force’s Test and Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby, is now underway.

The Panavia Tornado has performed the all-weather day/night interdiction role for the RAF admirably since its introduction in its original GR.1 form in the early 1980s. Like the Eurofighter Typhoon, the aircraft was built by a multi-national consortium established in the 1970s (its origins can be traced back to the aborted Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft project in the early 1960s). The Typhoon replaced the Air Defence Variant (ADV) of the Tornado in RAF service in 2011 and will fly alongside the RAF’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs once the Tornado GR.4 is withdrawn.

RAF deploy Storm Shadow missiles against ISIS in Iraq

RAF Tornado GR.4 Storm Shadow

Tornado armed with two Storm Shadows under the fuselage

Royal Air Force strike aircraft operating against ISIS forces in Iraq have used one of the most powerful weapons in the British arsenal for the first time. Flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, two Tornado GR.4s launched four Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles against a weapon store housed in a reinforced bunker that harked back to the days of Saddam Hussein.

Storm Shadow is a long-range, stand-off, air-launched missile and is arguably the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world. Equipped with a powerful conventional warhead it was designed specifically to attack important hardened targets and infrastructure; a requirement that arose in the days of the Cold War. The missile can fly at high sub-sonic speeds out to a range in excess of 150 miles and is designed to have low-observability on radar.

An RAF spokesperson told the media;

Intelligence had determined that Daesh were using a large concrete bunker in western Iraq as a weapons facility. Due to the massive construction, built during the Saddam era, it was decided to use four Storm Shadow missiles against it, as the weapon has particularly good capabilities against such a challenging target. The missiles were launched on Sunday 26 June by two Tornados, all four Storm Shadows scored direct hits and penetrated deep within the bunker.

Videos of RAF hitting Daesh armed truck and weapons depot

The following videos were uploaded to the MoD’s YouTube page


April 29th 2016

Tornados on a reconnaissance mission on Friday 29 April used two Brimstone missiles to destroy a T-55 tank and an armed truck despite the efforts by Daesh to conceal both in a palm grove south of Fallujah.


May 2nd 2016

In northern Iraq, Tornados used two Paveways to destroy a Daesh-held building and a nearby weapons store north of Mosul, then flew south to the Qayyarah region where Iraqi forces were engaged in a firefight with a group of terrorists manning a fortified position.