Qioptiq logo Raytheon

Of Syria Vote, Hilary Benn, Labour, Mission Sustainability, Tornado GR4 and Typhoon By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory

tornadogr403 Dec 15. Like so many other I can only but applaud the brilliant speech delivered by Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Been in the House of Commons last night. This was no political speech – it was an impassioned plea straight from the heart that reminded the nation of its common values just as it reasoned why it was so necessary that Britain joined its allies in the fight against ISIL. Rarely in our lifetime have we be able to witness a display of such impassionate belief in why we must never allow freedom to be challenged.

Not surprisingly, particularly given that two Royal Air Force Tornado GGR4 pairs have already delivered the first round of precision bombing on east Syrian Omar oil fields in an attempt to cut off a vital income stream for ISIL I along with others including a former Chief of the Air Staff, ACM Sir Michael Grayson and the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Hague have been busy in BBC radio studios this morning providing informed comment a views. All three of us agree that extending our air strike engagement into Syria in support our allies, particularly France and the US, is absolutely right and we  agree as well that there is a strong case to extend the level of UK ‘Special Forces’ involvement on the ground. But I do not agree with those such as the former Head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, who believe that we should deploy a larger force of ‘boots on the ground’.

Not surprisingly, given their hardly neutral stance on matters, the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon was given a particularly hard time of the Today Programme this morning by John Humphrys. Mr. Fallon defended the position of the UK Government extremely very well saying that the strikes that took place last night using the four Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado aircraft and that delivered a total of twelve Paveway 1V guided bombs “will have dealt a real blow at the oil and revenue on which Daesh (IS, ISIL) terrorists depend”. He reminded that the military action against Daesh can be expected to continue for years rather than months and that ending this war will not be quick.

As the 174 majority vote in the House of Commons demonstrated last night, the Government not only has the absolute authority to proceed to act in support of our allies and in undertaking precision air attacks over Syria as well as continuing those over Iraq so too did the vote also enhance the position of Prime Minister, David Cameron. The point here is that even if not all aspects of the mission go right Mr. Cameron has received a mandate from the House.

As to the Labour leadership, well it seems to me that the only way to destroy the present impasse of having a ‘leader’ so out of step with the majority of his elected MP’s is that those that can stand the position of embarrassment and self-inflicted damage and attempted execution of failed left-wing principles no longer that one of their number must lead a mass defection to form a new independent Labour Party. There would of course be no need for any of them to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds and they could perfectly well sit in the House of Commons away from the traditional Labour Party whip without the need to resign their seats. Four years ahead of the next election much water is still left to flow and I very much doubt that Jeremy Corbyn will manage to sustain sufficient support to remain of a party that lost more than a third of its MP’s for very long.

Let ne come back to where I began though and show due respect to some of the finest words to be heard in the House of Commons in a generation. That they should come from a man who, having met him, may be described as humble and full of deference is remarkable. Like father like son this is a family man we are talking about and one who understands why we must never lose sight of the continuing need to fight to maintain freedom. I can only but defer myself to the brilliants words used Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn MP last evening when he said:

“As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism believing we have a responsibility one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculating brutality but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt, they hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt and they hold our democracy – the rules by which we will make our decision tonight – in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.

“And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the international brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It is why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight.”

The above is why all of us who work in support of defence whether military or civilian do what we do. We are now there and we will play our part to the full. But we must also recognise that even though our spirit and our determination is there we have allowed our armed forces to be considerably weakened. Yes, SDSR 2015 went some way to begin the process of reversing the decline but in terms of capability there will be little of any change seen over the next couple of years. We do have sufficient Tornado GR4 capability and slowly but surely Typhoon capability in the form of weapons delivery systems and radar is being enhanced so that, hopefully, by 2019 the capability will match or even outpace that of the brilliant Tornado GR4.

The worry though is sustainability. I am reminded as I have been many times in the past of the warning about sustainability given by ACM Sir Simon Bryant to a small group of MP’s in a briefing paper in 2012 in respect of our then still ongoing involvement in the Libya campaign, Op Ellamy. “The ability” he said “of the Royal Air Force to respond to future emergencies was likely to be eroded if the mission in Libya extended beyond the summer. His view was backed up by the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope who warned the government that it would face challenging decisions if the Libya mission lasted more than [another] six months.

Bryant was not just talking about equipment sustainment, he was also talking about military personnel and all that they do. He may also have been referring to our inventory and holdings of complex weapons which were known to be stretched. Bryant’s warnings were shot down by Prime Minister in a sentence that David Cameron will have come to regret when he replied with the now immortal words:

There are moments when I wake up, read the newspapers and think: ‘Well look, you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking’. Time is on our side and we will keep going with this; and the pressure is turning up all the time.”

A couple of months after making the speech the position held by ACM Sir Simon Bryant, CinC Air, was scrapped and he retired from the Royal Air Force. More’s the pity for comments such as those made by Bryant are needed to ensure that Government sees sense.

Whilst writing let me remind of the capability that the Royal Air Force Tornado GR4, Typhoon and Reaper have. In addition the UK is maintaining Sentry E3-D AWACS, Sentinel from RAF Akrotiri in support of the Iraq and now Syria campaign (possibly Air Seeker as well) the eight 9 Squadron Tornado GR4 aircraft are to be enhanced by an additional two GR4’s and six Typhoons. For the GR4’s the weapon of choice will be the MBDA built Brimstone air-to-ground attack missile which has a range of 10 miles and speed of 70mph and able to hit small moving targets with absolute precision together with the Raytheon UK built Paveway 1V smart bomb. In addition the unmanned Reaper capability has the ability to fire the Hellfire air-to-ground missile.

Tornado GR4 specification and armament capability is given on the MOD website as:

Engines: Two RR RB199 Mk103 turbofans, Thrust: 16,000lbs each, Max speed: 1.3Mach, Length: 16.72m, Max altitude: 50,000ft, Span: 8.6m, Aircrew: 2, Armament: DMS and Legacy Brimstone, Enhanced Paveway II, Storm Shadow, , Paveway II, Paveway III, Paveway IV, Mauser 27mm Cannon, ASRAAM

Powered by two Rolls-Royce RB 199 Mk 103 turbofan engines, the GR4 is capable of low-level supersonic flight and can sustain a high subsonic cruise speed. The aircraft can fly automatically at low level using Terrain Following Radar (TFR) when poor weather prevents visual flight. The aircraft is also equipped with Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) and is Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible. This gives it a relatively unique all weather night capability as well as making it an impressive platform for mounting passive night electro-optical operations.

For navigation purposes, the Tornado is equipped with an integrated Global Positioning Inertial Navigation System (GPINS). The GR4 also has a Ground Mapping Radar (GMR) to identify fix-points and update navigation systems as well as providing an air to air search facility. The GR4 is also equipped with a Laser Ranger and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) that can be used to locate targets designated on the ground or can provide accurate range information to ground targets.

The GR4 typically carries up to a maximum of 5 Paveway IV smart weapons or 2 Stormshadow cruise missiles but can be configured with various weapons, targeting pods and reconnaissance pods simultaneously including the Dual Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone, ALARM Mk2 missile, Litening III and the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod Tornado (RAPTOR).

The RAPTOR pod is one of the most advanced reconnaissance sensors in the world and greatly increases the effectiveness of the aircraft in the reconnaissance role. Its introduction into service gave the GR4 the ability to transmit real-time, Long Range Oblique Photography (LOROP) to commanders or to view this in cockpit during a mission. The stand-off range of the sensors also allows the aircraft to remain outside heavily defended areas, thus minimizing the aircraft’s exposure to enemy air-defence systems. Additional capability in the Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) role is provided by the Litening III RD and the use of the ROVER data link for providing tactical operators with real time Full Motion Video (FMV) in the battle space.

All GR4 aircraft are capable of carrying the Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile (ALARM), which homes on to the emitted radiation of enemy radar systems and can be used in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role. The GR4 is capable of carrying up to nine ALARM or a mixed configuration of ALARM and bombs. The self-protection capability of the GR4 has recently been upgraded by the integration of the state of the art ASRAAM short range air to air missile. Infra-Red (IR) and Radio Frequency (RF) countermeasures are provided by a BOZ-107 Pod on the right wing to dispense chaff and flares and a Sky Shadow-2 electronic countermeasures pod on the left wing. The aircraft is also equipped with an integral 27mm Mauser cannon capable of firing 1700 rounds per minute.

The Tornado GR4 is now equipped with the Storm Shadow missile and 2 variants of the Brimstone missile, including the most advanced DMS variant. The Storm Shadow allows the Tornado to make precision strikes in poor weather with a greatly increased stand-off range from the target area. Whilst legacy Brimstone provides the Tornado with an effective anti-armour weapon coupled with an enhanced stand-off range. The DMS variant enables unrivalled flexibility coupled with precision which is second to none.

Typhoon Capability specification and armaments as per MOD Website

Specification Engines: 2 Eurojet EJ200 turbojets, Thrust: 20,000lbs each, Max speed: 1.8Mach, Length: 15.96m, Max altitude: 55,000ft, Span: 11.09m, Aircrew: 1, Armament: Paveway IV, AMRAAM, ASRAAM, Mauser 27mm Cannon, Enhanced Paveway II

By 2018/19 when the current upgrade work is complete Typhoon Weapons integration will include Meteor air-to-air missile, Paveway IV, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Small Diameter Bomb. Additionally, it the aircraft is planned to be fitted with upgraded radar to that of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) capability.

CHW (London – 3rd December 2015)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710-779785



Back to article list