The Royal Air Force has flown a last operational mission with the Tornado GR4. The final deployed jets returned from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, to their home station of RAF Marham, Norfolk earlier today.
The final operational sortie on January 31 involved aircraft ZA601/‘066’ and ZA542/‘035’ that took off from Akrotiri in support of Operation Shader – the UK contribution to the campaign against so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The mission brought to an end to four-and-a-half years of the type’s involvement on Shader. The Tornados were in action until the last – strike footage released by the MOD showed the aircraft destroying an enemy strongpoint and a sniper position northeast of Abu Kamal in Syria on January 19.
The return of the final aircraft from their Mediterranean forward base over the last few days could be followed using flight-tracking software:
— nde (@5472_nde) February 5, 2019
The weapons capabilities of the Tornado GR4 – which will be retired on March 31 – have now been taken on by the RAF Typhoon Force. Under ‘Project Centurion’, worth £425m over the past three years, the Typhoon can now launch the Storm Shadow deep strike cruise missile and the Brimstone precision-attack missile – both formerly employed by the Tornado GR4.
From now until its retirement, the Tornado will only be used for training purposes over the UK.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is with a heavy heart, but enormous pride, that we bid farewell to the Tornado from operations. This truly is the end of an era, having played a vital role in keeping Britain and its allies safe for four decades.
“But, after so long in service, it is only right that we now look to the future. The combination of our state-of-the art F-35s and the Typhoon’s new weapon systems will keep us as a world leader in air combat for a generation.”
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier added: “My sincerest congratulations to the Tornado Force, returning home after more than four years of continuous commitment to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria – an exceptional effort from everyone, well done and thank you.
“As a Tornado GR4 pilot myself, I have seen the aircraft develop over its nearly 40 years of service into an outstanding combat aircraft, flown, maintained and supported by similarly outstanding air and ground crew. The Tornado Force has been continuously deployed on operations since 1990, serving with immense distinction in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans.
“I will personally be very sad to see the Tornado retire, but it is time now to pass the baton to our next-generation combat aircraft. The F-35B Lightning is now operational and the Typhoon is now fully multi-role capable and able to take on the Tornado’s missions.
“We can all take immense pride in what the Tornado has achieved in defence of the nation over nearly four decades, and reflect back on the courage, commitment and achievements of everyone who has contributed to the success of this extraordinary aircraft.”
Look out for more on the final months of the Tornado GR Force, an exclusive free poster, plus the latest installment of our Tornado Tales series, in the forthcoming March issue of AFM.