The end of an era: “Tonka” have returned to RAF Marham from their last tour of duty.
On Jan. 31, 2019, the RAF launched the final operational sortie of the Tornado GR4. The aircraft (ZA601/066 and ZA542/035) took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and operated the final mission against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, marking the end of the type’s involvement in Operation “Shader”.
The first mission against the Islamic State targets was carried out on Sept. 27, 2014, when two RAF Tornado GR4s, deployed at Akrotiri airbase, in Cyprus, performed an armed reconnaissance mission in company with other planes from the international coalition, over Iraq. The RAF Tornado jets, supported by a Voyager tanker, carried three Paveway IV LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and a Litening III pod that enabled the aircraft to gather intelligence that helped acquire potential targets for future operations. Since then, four and a half years of air strikes and recce missions followed (some of those could be tracked online transiting via Israel and Jordan’s airspace by means of ADS-B or Mode-S). Until Feb. 4, 2019.
Welcome back! Different aircraft, same mission. RAF KC-3 tanker ahead of a pair of Tornado GR4 strike fighters on the north #Iraq run from Akrotiri, #Cyprus via downtown #Amman #Jordan pic.twitter.com/BVHrk0epyK
— INTELLIPUS (@intellipus) May 5, 2018
Eight Tornado GR4, belonging to both the No 9 and 31 Sqn and operating as part of the No 903 Expeditionary Air Wing were deployed to Akrotiri yesterday. The first five aircraft returned to RAF Marham on Feb. 4; the remaining three, landed at their homebase on Feb. 5, 2019. The aircraft were supported by Voyager KC.3 ZZ336 tanker on their way home.
1316z Looks like #RAF KC3 ZZ336 RRR9103 has had the same mission as yesterday – out of Athens, northwest refuelling Tornado on the way back to UK. pic.twitter.com/zUft1xEJb6
— nde (@5472_nde) February 5, 2019
For the next couple of months, until Mar. 31, 2019, when the type will be eventually retired, the RAF Tornado GR4s will continue to fly training missions over the UK.
Beginning on Jan. 30, one of the 6x Typhoon FGR4 jets deployed to Akrotiri have started carrying the Brimstone 2 precision attack missile, taking over the role in support of Operation Shader from the Tornado: the integration of this kind of weapons means that the Tiffies are now able to carry all the same weapons as the Tonka, Jane’ 360’s Jon Lake noted.
Noteworthy, during the first air strike in support of Op. Shader, the Typhoons carried also 2x 500-lb Paveway IV dual-mode bombs, and a Litening III laser designation pod, 2x ASRAAMs (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles) and a single AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range-Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM): “double the weapon load of the most recently seen Tornado ‘Shader’ fit, which included only a single Paveway IV and a single Brimstone, with no air-to-air missiles,” Lake highlighted.