When the Harriers deployed on Op HERRICK to Afghanistan the earlier deployed airframes came back with mission marks before the practice was stopped in 2006. At the time I thought this might be the last mission marks applied to RAF aircraft but both the Typhoon and Tornado aircraft acquired marking from munitions dropped and fired on Op ELLAMY over the skies of Libya.
RAF Tornado GR4 ZD850
The Tornados used a variety of weapons and this airframe has a selection of all of them. Starting on the left with the largest number of markings is the Paveway IV precision guide munition (PGM) marked as PW IV. The bomb can be operated in either laser guided or GPS guided mode and has 500lb of high explosive making it smaller than earlier Paveways but the increase in accuracy means it has the same effect on target. The next column is the Dual Mode Sensor Brimstone anti-armour missile, labelled as DMS. This missile proved to be very well suited for Libya allowing the RAF to attack armoured targets that were hiding in towns and cities. The precision of the weapon and the small warhead means it delivers a very targeted explosion with very low collateral damage. This allowed the RAF to prosecute targets where Paveways couldn’t be used. The next column labelled EPW II is the Enhanced Paveway II and is the older generation of laser guided bombs (LGB) upgraded to have a GPS guided function. The final column is the Storm Shadow cruise missile, labelled SS. These were used to attack the air defence system and fired at 150 miles from the target. The Storm Shadow missions were flown direct from RAF Marham and the 8 hour sortie time made it the longest bombing mission undertaken by the RAF since the Black Buck missions in the Falklands Conflict.
The Tornado fleet flew more than 8000 hours and conducted 1472 missions as part of Operation ELLAMY.
An interesting note about these mission marks is that unlike the Harrier ones that were applied and ‘baked’ on these markings were actually applied with marker pen! I assume they created a template but still a good effort to get the airframes marked up even though they didn’t have the tools at hand to do it. Like the Harrier fleet though the marked jets are also the ones with the highest hours and will be withdrawn from use and reduced to spares at RAF Leeming’s RTP facility to keep other jets flying. With the uncertainty around the future of the Tranche 1 Typhoons and when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will enter service means the out of service date of the Tornado will need to be flexible (currently the date is 2019 / 2020 down from the original 2025 but I expect it will change many times before they finally bow out).
The Tornado fleet is still deployed on Op HERRICK and at the time of writing II(AC) Sqn are in theatre with IX(B) Sqn working up to replace them when their 4 month stint is up (the deployment use to be 3 months but has now been extended).
RAF Tornado GR4 ZA551