UK RAF set for the 'long-haul' against the Islamic State

A pair of RAF Tornado GR4sapproach RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on 3 December 2015, after carrying out some of the first British bombing runs over Syria. A senior service official says that the RAF is geared for a protracted mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Source: PA

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is confident that it can maintain its current level of operations over Iraq and Syria "for years" if needs be, a senior service official said on 30 March.

Speaking to reporters at the FIDAE Airshow in Santiago, Chile, Deputy Commander of Operations Air Marshal Greg Bagwell said that the RAF's deployment for Operation 'Shader' is set up for a sustained long-term effort against the Islamic State.

"Some countries do six months hard, and then leave and go back in once they've recovered - we are doing things differently. We could have put more [aircraft and personnel] in for a shorter period of time, but we are in this for the long-haul as it looks like it is going to go on for some time, perhaps even years," AM Bagwell said.

The United Kingdom has 10 Panavia Tornado GR4 (two of which are held in reserve) and six Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 combat aircraft flying missions out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. This number was surged from the initial eight Tornados that had been flying missions over Iraq since September 2014, when the United Kingdom extended its remit in December 2015 to include Syria also.

In addition to these RAF Akrotiri-based assets, the United Kingdom also has an undisclosed number (believed to be 10) General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying combat and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions out of 'a Middle East location' (reported to be Kuwait).

Combat assets are also routinely supported by Airbus Defence and Space (DS) Voyager tankers; Boeing E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) platforms; a Boeing RC-135 Airseeker signals intelligence aircraft; as well as Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, Airbus DS A400M Atlas, and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters.

According to AM Bagwell, this force structure represents the RAF's "maximum sustained effort", though he added that the service "has enough in the tank" to see the mission through.

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