After almost four decades on operations, Royal Air Force Tornado jets have returned home to RAF Marham from operations in the Middle East. 

First entering service in 1979, the fast jets have been involved in Op Shader for the past four and a half years, the UK’s mission to defeat Da’esh in Syria and Iraq.

“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”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson

Assisted by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker from RAF Brize Norton, five Tornados returned to RAF Marham yesterday, with the remaining three returning today. Families and friends of the crew were on hand to welcome them back to the Norfolk base.

The Tornados’ weapons capabilities have been transferred to RAF Typhoon fast jets. Under the £425m ‘Project Centurion’, the Typhoon is now capable of delivering the Meteor air-to-air missile, the Stormshadow fire-and-forget cruise missile, and the Brimstone precision attack missile. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Typhoon’s “new weapon systems will keep us as a world leader in air combat for a generation”.

The Tornado will be officially retired from service at the end of March. Speaking to the UK Defence Journal, the Ministry of Defence said the Tornados would “remain over UK skies for help with training exercises” until their retirement.

Gavin Williamson recently announced that RAF F-35 Lightning jets have been declared operational and are ready to be deployed around the world. Alongside the Typhoon, it will now form the backbone of the UK’s combat air fleet.

The F-35 could be deployed to RAF Akrotiri later this year to continue the fight against Da’esh.

The RAF trialled the interoperability between its Typhoon and F-35 aircraft last year, which it says proved “the effectiveness of both platforms when operating alongside one another”. 

The head of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, passed on his “sincerest congratulations to the Tornado Force”. He commended their “exceptional effort” after “4 years of continuous commitment to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria”


Originally named the Tornado GR1, the aircraft’s first use in live operations was during the Gulf War in 1991, when 60 Tornado GR1s were deployed from bases in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

They were later upgraded to the GR4 model, which has been used ever since over the skies of Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

69 COMMENTS

  1. If they do send the F35s to Cyprus to hammer ISIS then that would be a nice swap from tornados. I’ll miss the tornados flying around up here in the north, we don’t get many these days, they used to always fly lower than the house roofs I worked on up Loch Ness and the great glen, it was amazing, and camera phones really sucked a few years back so got no great pictures or videos!!.

    • You won’t do. You had 3 squadrons of GR4 at Lossi until a few years ago plus 15R Squadron the OCU.

      2 of them were cut when Liam Fox was DS. The other is now at Marham.

      Using a gold plated asset like Lightning to drop bombs on ISIS is a colossal waste of an asset in my opinion.

      A bit like using 1 billion quid T45s to patrol singly picking up drug hauls and deterring pirates.

        • But what you have the F35’s and the T45’s doing in this time? Sat around rusting.

          Get them out there working. If you went and spent thousands on a 4×4 but refused to drive it until the weather got really bad would that not also be a waste of money?

      • As I said “WE DONT GET MANY THESE DAYS” up north as they were replaced by typhoons at Lossie!. And what would you have the F35s do? It’s great training for the F35s flying REAL missions as aposed to training and it’s not like the RAF would have squadrons flying against ISIS it would be a handful at most these days. If we have the jets we may aswel use them or we will lose them!, or would you prefer we have them sitting in hangars or flying around the UK?. And you don’t mind the Typhoons flying against ISIS then no?. And I think it should be a mix of drones and jets But as long as we have fast jets we need to use them ur lose them….

        • Typhoons no. We have many more, and they have taken the GR4s role. And are already on station.

          As for capitals, no need. I was agreeing with you but you clearly missed it.

          We will lose them if we keep them for their primary task flying off the QECs???? Really. Tell that to the RN or HMG spending billions on a programme that puts billions more into UKPLC.

  2. For me an iconic RAF jet alongside Harrier.

    I hope it will receive an almighty send off.

    Useful as Centurion is it is important to remember no new aircraft and numbers drop yet again, while tasks expand.

    More with less. The same old story.

    No matter what spin Gavin Williamson puts on it.

    The Merlin thread at the moment is in the same theme.

    Scrap an asset. Get already existing to cover the role. And call it a success story.

    One day the slack of numbers will bite us.

    • ‘Harrier’

      Described by US fighter mafia man Pierre Sprey as totally useless – which provoked an indignant reaction from an former Tornado pilot I mentioned it to. Still, the Harrier force was flogged off by the useless Dr Fox at the behest of the even more useless slash & burn Osborne.

    • Indeed. I just hope that the RAF have planned a fitting farewell flying tour that fits in as many destinations in the country as possible to give them the send off that they deserve. Then hopefully of too museums or gate guardians, it would be a mighty shame to see them merely discarded and scrapped.

    • You are not alone in your Thinking Daniele.

      I remember building an Airfix Model as a kid. it was called MRCA at the time. Seeing them fly the Mach Loop and various other parts of the Country over the years as well as at sea, they have left huge imprint in my memory. Was it 360 ordered/Built ?

      So, If the F35’s are to take over flying for Cyprus, WTF are we going to put on HMS POW ?

      9 Operational F35’s so far. Way too few, spread way too Thinly over way too many Years. 138 in total over the next 30 odd years, at best 80 aircraft at any one time and maybe 50-60 Serviceable If Typhoon Stats are anything to go by.
      That concerns me a lot.

      • Agree with all the above comments,the Tornado has given Stirling service over the years,but after 40 years It cannot go on forever.The reality of the RAF today is a combat Fleet of Fast jets that will be sub 150 strong for some time to come unless any miracles are forthcoming from the Treasury.For Peactime purposes this may be enough but since the drawdown of Cold War (mk1) the RAF has been pretty busy in various conflicts,all we can hope for is that the future holds no unpleasant suprises.In lieu of a major change of Government policy I still think another Typhoon order is very unlikely,maybe 90 – 100 F35’s will eventually be ordered,the Tempest project does actually bear fruit and the use of Drones increases,but hey ho Quality over Quantity is where things are at the moment who am I to say any different.

      • It’s a terrible, terrible concern captain P wash and everyone must understand your worries and doubtless sleepless nights. Brexit hasn’t happened yet either but when it does Britain will become great again so that might help you a bit….unless you work in the car industry, service industry or run a business which depends on imports and exports.

        What are you doing to assuage your concerns about the fact that the glorious RAF will have a dozen aeroplanes left? Are there support groups and things?

        We could set up coastal patrols and re issue the Lee Enfield No 4 rifles, I suppose. They’d be cheaper! What do you reckon?

        • “What do you reckon”?

          Reckon you’re an Idiot.

          I’m only going by Every Post you ever post here.

          Touched by the hand of Salmond at a tender age Is my Guess.

          To be Honest though TH, I really hope you gain your Independence from us horrible folk South of the Border, That way you get to run around the Hills in Short Dresses with Gay Abandon again. And We, get to re-Point and Extend Hadrian’s best ever Idea. so that We don’t have to let you all back In when Mr Putin starts Probing your non existent Defences and best of all, we no longer have to Subsidise Tennent’s Super anymore.

          But I guess You will be happy being Utterly Defenceless and Pissed.

          Did I mention you are an Idiot ????

          • The next Indy Ref does indeed approach. Living down south, you won’t have witnessed the thousands marching in the streets calling for it and the polls re looking more and more positive. That said, I anticipate around 2021 for the next referendum.

            Meanwhile though, about these worries over a lack of RAF planes. How are you coping and what’s to be done to get more purchased?

            How about a petition and donations?

            How about my idea regarding No. 4 rifles? There must be a few Bren guns still around too.

            I remember the MRCA. The RAF were supplied with 360 of them of various types. I even remember the purchase of 202 Jaguars. There were Lightnings, Buccaneers, Canberras, Vulcans, Victors, Nimrods out of Kinloss, Harriers, Hawks ready to fight those pesky Russians, even the odd Hunter. Not so many now though. How the Empire has slowly collapsed, hasn’t it?

        • the decision to retire harrier which, missionwise could what tornado does except we gave 72 of them away to the u.s who promptly announced that they expected them to be in service after 2030.

        • They talk about RAF operating them since ’79 but they never became fully operational until at least ’83. However, numbers and speed of delivery were considerably higher

        • Robert, It’s only one more this year. making 17 in total with 9 in the UK. We haven’t actually ordered the full 138 yet either.

        • but vastly overpriced and everyone is banking everything on it being able to deliver what it says in the brochures, i think we’re putting too much faith into something un tested, just we did withe t45’s

  3. Wasn’t ever a fighter, not much of a multi-roller either. Remember in Canada how some US / Canadians / French pilots called it the training dummy. Radar was poor, heavy on fuel and maintenance and lack of investment so by the time it was right it only had a few years left. Still the one the kids love at the shows though.

    • Don’t get that since Tornado was on opps pretty much permanently since ’91. It may have been a poor fighter but as strike/attack, there wasn’t too much better. The effectiveness of the weapons suite at least matched its peers and at best with Raptor/Brimstone offered a truly unique capability. You may be right about the range/power, but with AAR that was never a problem and power only became an issue when hot/high. As far as I can see an incredibly versatile platform which ended up excelling in a role it was never envisaged for. Any takers?

      • Indeed. for strike missions it was outstanding (after all that was what it was designed for). In fact it has probably been the best strike aircraft in the world for most of its career. It was a terrible fighter but then it was not designed to do that role and the fighter variant should never have seen the light of day. The Americans were impressed by its effectiveness during the first gulf war.

        • Absolutely Lee.

          Let’s see other fast jets at the time flying in total darkness 200 foot or lower into Poland and East Germany carrying out interdiction missions.

          GR1 GR4 brilliant at it’s role.

          Criticisms of its lack of manouverabiliry are ignorant of what it was designed to do.

          • Agreed Daniele
            It was designed to be a stable weapons platform at very low level, and at very high speed – and was outstanding in that role.
            The F3 long-range interceptor wasn’t bad either (despite its critics).

    • No such thing as a multi role combat aircraft, which is why it wasn’t a great ‘dog fighter’, but that wasn’t intended to be its role, even as a ‘fighter’.

  4. The good Captain is right. I said as much about the Merlin numbers on that thread a couple of days ago, and got the usual “ but the quality is very high so we can do more with less”. That’s fine until you get into a shooting war of some kind and lose a few, which happens, and then you have got nothing in the reserve tank.
    If you look at the graphic produced by Save the Royal Navy, we will not have operational shipboard capability with the first F35 squadron until 2021/22, and the second, 809, until 2025. That will only allow a maximum of 12 aircraft per carrier, and if there is the intention of having more squadrons, or ordering more airframes, it is not yet apparent. Every politician who can fog up a mirror will tell you that each carrier can carry up to 36, which is simply not going to happen till hell freezes over.
    If there is a need to put them to use in the Middle East then it really shows that we need more of them, and that there could be a case to have some A versions as well. Then you could have 4 squadrons of B’s dedicated to shipboard use, two squadrons per carrier, and the same number of A’s for the exclusive use of the RAF. Is it going to happen? Not in my lifetime, or until something really nasty blows up and we have to borrow from the USMC.

    • Nick C , I seem to recall we could actually Cram 42 F35B’s into and on, the QE Class Carriers If Push came to Shove, HMS Hermes was sent on her way in 82 with way more stuff than was ever really envisaged and I can tell you, there were a few “Touching Cloth” moments on the way down.

      Still did the Job though, Didn’t We ?

        • Long time ago when I was young, Dumb and full of Salty Sea Spray. Didn’t really know any better nor what was actually going on at the time, I just went with the Flow. Was your Colleague RN ?

          • Captain P. Should I be worried when a matelot tells me he was full of salty sea spray?

            Being tall, I was normally in the front ranks when on parade and walking behind the navy left troubling images in my mind given the way they walked.

      • Nick C, The Obvious and Blatantly correct thinking Is overwhelmingly Ignored by virtually every MP, Government Official and Over Paid MOD Advisor. It’s only “Us” the grunts and Cannon fodder and Offspring of earlier “Cannon Fodder” that seam to care. As much as I am impressed with the Quality of our Equipment, Ships and Aircraft, not to mention our Military Personnel, I’m enormously concerned at the lack of Numbers. Have been for decades now.

        (Shut Up TH, I’m really not Interested BTW )

        • Quite right Captain, it only encourages him to respond, leave him to his barking mad
          (admittedly quite amusing) ranting….

    • Hi Nick C.

      I doubt we will see both carriers sailing with F35B squadrons that was never in the plan.
      1 carrier ready. 1 reserve.

      24 F35B on one carrier plus Merlin is a highly capable force few countries can match. Even just 12 F35 plus helicopters.

      It is far, far better than nothing, which is what we had since 2010.

      If situation demands it such as major war put a squadron on each plus helicopters. Or use one as strike the other with whatever helicopters be used.

      The point is we have the 2 carriers so one is always available.

      Unless Cam Hunter has his way after telling me off for suggesting we should use our few assets for the roles they were envisaged.

  5. I’m a navy man through and through, just thought I would get that out there before we start. It troubles me greatly that the horrible political class have set the numbers we will have in stone already. Definatley yes, we need enough B variant to cover both carriers, might be tough to swallow but we do. The Raf have been winging for a bit about how they need a sharper tool to their toolbox and I can’t disagree, the FAA need ro cover both carriers with a spare squadron in my view, that’s pretty much all of the amount ordered!
    Yes I agree the A version is a better fit for all the op’s the Raf need to be doing, so what happens? It’s finger in the air time I’m afraid. We have got to hope we have a major cash boost to the armed forces FAA and Raf at the front of the queue, times are changing fast and the days of the RAF needing 18+ squadrons is coming fast. In another reality the FAA needs all of the B variant and the RAF needs a whole load of A variant. Will it happen? I doubt it, the political class don’t have any idea nowadays, comfy in their payoffs from the EU they will put their heads in the sand until the shite hits the proverbial!

  6. Fingers crossed once we have retired then we can sell them on to the Germans who might be forced to retain their Tornadoes for decades yet 😏

  7. Captain P. I take your point about Hermes, I watched her leave Portsmouth with no boot topping showing at all she was so laden. Moving the deck park must have been entertaining! If you could get 42 F35’s on board you would get a fantastic sortie rate, but where are they? Even given some from the USMC I am not sure when we will see a full deck on either ship.
    Not too sure that the bloke TH is a Scot. Those I know were taught to write the Queens English, and usually do it rather well. He strikes me as being functionally illiterate.

    • Nick C, Hermes was sort of like a Heavy Float lead on a Light Fishing line. We were all pretty clueless at the time but some of the Seniors faces told a story all of their own when we got to the south and It’s Weather. “Wohh Shiiiiitttte” Was mentioned more than a few times. Awhile back, there was a Poster called “Chris H”, I think He was on board too ( Rusty Lusty was where we met, I think ) but He’s not on here any more.

    • “Not too sure that the bloke TH is a Scot.”

      Does make me wonder though. Considering the number of Scots who lost their lives in the building of the British Empire, his/her ramblings does seem to spit in the face of their legacy, and the history of Scotland.

      Also make me wonder about Scottish Politics. They want to exit the UK. Okay. BUT! They want to still keep the work and jobs related to the UK that will be lost when they leave. How’s that going to work? Will all those Scots marching in the streets now calling for the exit from the UK be then marching in the streets rioting against the Scottish Government for the loss of jobs?

      I’m just an outsider as far as the politics of the UK. I just don’t get all the subtle innuendoes regarding the issues. It just seems that it a case of “Having your cake and eating it too.”

      And maybe… just maybe… I shouldn’t be poking the troll…

      • They will all down in England. Working.

        The irony that the SNP wants to split from British brothers and sisters yet remain in political union with continental Europe amazes me.

  8. I even remember the good old ‘Rusty B’, the Albion, the Ark Royal, and the Blake and Tiger. Ah, those were the days. Those County class and all those 26 Leanders and Type 12s. The sun has truly set on the old Empire now, hasn’t it?

  9. Ah yes, I recall the Leopard class impressive with two twin Mark 6 4.5″ turrets fore and aft, then the Cathedral class – weren’t they classed at AD ships? Their engines were very similar to those on the old Oberons- then the Tribal class with those open single 4.5″ gun houses and twin funnels – those rather sadly named second rate frigates, the Type 14s. Do you remember those captain P Wash? I think they were all part of the Second Frigate Squadron down at Portland and that you couldn’t go from for’d to aft without walking along the weather decks. Didn’t they shear some of them up with wooden bows when the mighty Andrew tackled the even mightier Icelandic gunboats? Then whatever happened to the Mermaid? Flogged off to some Far Eastern Country, wasn’t she? Lovely ship but rather unlucky really.

    Yes, ’tis terrible indeed. Strangely, I don’t recall an HMS Salmond though despite what you say.

  10. Have the tornados been replaced at akrotiri with additional Typhoon, or will the numbers on Shader wind down? We keep hearing that ISIS are several thousand fighters hemmed into a small packet of land – surely a much lower (or perhaps no) tempo is required now? Don’t think f35 should go to shader, surely to achieve their AOC (maritime), their time has to be spent training to “the plan” to be ready for 2021 and that far eastern cruise

      • I expect to see a draw down of the number of our aircraft employed fighting ISIS within the year. ISIS are properly screwed, now that Russian advisors are leading the Syrians on the ground. Unless they can properly surround ISIS a lot of them will slip away to Libya, Chad etc. The problem comes when ISIS are “defeated” and Syria goes back to a full on civil war. Now that Iran is embedded in the country I don’t see them leaving any time soon, especially as they can lob stuff at Israel and blame it on Hamas. If Iran gets caught doing something stupid, Israel won’t play tit for tat, they will use the full shock and awe package!

        I remember watching the GR4s take off from Kandybar using the full length of the runway to get airborne. They stayed low for quite a while before peeling off to do their patrol. I suppose they didn’t like the summer heat, but the F15s and 18s didn’t have any problems, more power required (bit late now though).

        On one hand its crazy that we send our Typhoons and possibly F35s to carry out close air support. Especially were there is no direct threat to our aircraft. It would be better to use just the Reaper rather than burning off the airframe hours of the fast jets. However, it is the best training the pilots can have. As they can work with forward air controllers and drop live ordnance in real scenarios.

    • Julian1 – just read that 8 Tornado’s have returned leaving 6 Typhoons ,if that’s true a slight reduction but surely better capability.

  11. I remember they produced the Sea King AEW in record time, less than two months. Surely they could produce a squadron of Advanced Combat Hawks in a few months to take over hitting ISIS in Syria.

  12. Just to correct a few posts. Original Tornado order was 365 including 220 GR1/1a and 165 F2/F3. Remember it clear as day in an inventory listing of the RAF probably in Flight Magazine cerca early/mid 80s. In the day when the RAF could muster 400-500 combat jets!

  13. If uk did go for a few F35A’s could they carry ASRAAM.internally.. Was the internal integration issue on tbe B’s space, systems, cost or combination?

    P

    • Neither A or B versions carry ASRAAM internally, only externally on near wing tips. F-35A and B, can carry AMRAAM both internally and externally.

  14. Two thoughts about the comments from TH.
    Firstly, I’m glad to see that you have an old copy of Janes Fighting Ships to look up all the old classes of ships, lots of pretty pictures.
    Secondly, before you start bragging about the next “Indy ref” just remember, or find out, how the Barnett formula works. Like last time, no one votes to be worse off

    • Ha Nick, I thought It was the “Ladybird” book of ships. Interesting his comments about the Icelandic Cod Wars though.

  15. An Interesting exercise held by the French Air force. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2019/02/05/french-air-force-rehearses-a-long-range-nuclear-strike/
    Although the UK has gotten rid of its “buckets of sunshine” and relies solely on Trident there remains a NATO nuclear strike requirement for certain NATO countries including Germany. As Typhoon is not cleared to carry nuclear bombs what happens when Tornado goes out of service with the Luftwaffe ?

    • German Tornados inservice till 2025. Heard they rejected
      F35 and looking at F18 and Rafael. Assume the latter two are nuclear cleared?

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