Page 105 - The Chapka 2016
P. 105

Of Lancers and Tornados – Ground Liaison Officer Tornado Detachment Operation Shader
 Since October 2016 I have had the pleas- ure to serve as the Ground Liaison Officer (GLO) for 12 Bomber Squadron,
based in RAF Marham. The Squadron is one of three frontline Tornado Squad- rons which are each commanded by a Wing Commander and are equipped with 8 GR4 Tornado fighter/bomber jets. All three rotate through Operation Shader – the UK’s contribution to the fight against Da’esh – on a 3 month on, 6 month off
basis; the remaining six months allowing them to train Joint Tactical Air Controllers in the UK for Operations and train themselves. Since December 2016, 12 (B) Squadron has been de- ployed on its 8th Shader Roulement.
The Squadron is much like the Royal Lancers in that it bears much pride by it’s heraldry and motto: The Fox’s Mask was awarded early in the 1930s as the Squadron was the sole operator of the Fairey Fox, a light Bomber. Hence, the Squadron motto is ‘Leads the Field’ a direct connotation to their fox-hunting links and reputation for daylight bombing development. During WWII the Squadron earned two Victoria Crosses, most unusual for a RAF bombing Squadron (the VC has been awarded 1358 times, of which only 26 are to members of the RAF), which were both posthumously awarded in 1941 to Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Gray. Part of the citation states that, having vol- unteered for an extraordinarily hazardous mission to destroy ‘at all costs’ the Dutch Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven bridges to in- terdict a massive Nazi advance, “Flying Officer Garland led the formation in a dive-bombing attack from the lowest practicable altitude... Sergeant Gray navigated the formation in such a way that the attack was successfully carried out despite heavy losses.” ‘Heavy losses’ puts it lightly; of the 5 aircraft and 15 crew that took off, only one aircraft made it back, not including Garland and Grays.
Fast forward to today and we see 12 Squadron still being em- ployed as a Bomber Squadron on Operation Shader. The UK contribution to Operation SHADER is wide ranging and covers ground deployments from Erbil to Baghdad, Al Assad to Basra. As Air deployments go, it is often jested that in order for the RAF to wage war anywhere, all they need is 8 Tornados and 6 Ty-
phoons and, indeed, that is what has been deployed in support of Shader. The RAF are also flying daily missions in E3D AWACs (Ground translation: Boeing with a disc radar on top), Sentinels, C130 Hercules (I am sure most reader’s will remember or have been a passenger aboard this aircraft – nothing has changed), C15 Galaxies; our newest shiniest aeroplane, the A400M Atlas; and of course, twice daily, an Airbus Airtanker to refuel all of the aforementioned. It is on board this aircraft that the GLO would often travel around Iraq and surrounds, fuelling a myriad of NATO aircraft; Rafales, F16s, A10s, GR4s, FGR4s, AV8Bs, the alpha/numeric soup goes on. It is also, only when you wit- ness a Panavia GR4 Tornado only 20 feet away from the window that you suddenly register the enormous amount of skill taken to fly in such a precise, high-risk and close formation.
The Tornado has perhaps the most extraordinary history and legacy of any RAF airframe; having entered into service in 1974 it is still carrying out combat missions in the most dangerous airspace on the planet 43 years later. A record for a piece of war fighting equipment only matched by Lancer Scimitars of 44 years!
Originally designed to fly supersonically at very low level, the Tornado would barrel in below radar detection to the heart of Russia and deliver a nuclear bomb. An attrition rate of 30% was expected. Indeed, one of the hazards of the mission was expected to be ground-fire firing on the aircraft and hence the tailfin – a disproportionately shark like object of 15 feet – was filled with argon to ensure that rounds would not ignite any residual fuel vapours. Part of this low level design sees the GR4’s engines de- signed to gobble in thick low-level air and produce incredible thrust; a variable wing angle that could be set to fully swept for supersonic or full forward for maximum lift; and antennas on top of the aircraft to communicate upwards rather than downwards.
Nowadays we see this specialist low level bomber sitting at around 22,000 feet (your average passenger jet cruises at 30,000) where the engines starve, the wings remain set forward to pro- vide the lift and the communications struggle; the argon has long ago been drained away. But it does the job admirably and remains the only aircraft on Operation SHADER capable of de- livering the Brimstone precision Strike, semi-automonous air to ground missile. Even the pride of the RAF, the Typhoon, still
Camp Danger, Erbil.

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