The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is to transition its final two Panavia Tornado GR4 units over to new types as it retires the strike aircraft from service over the coming months.
Speaking at the Air Power Conference 2018 in London, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshall Sir Steven Hillier said that 9 Squadron and 31 Squadron will be re-roled to the Eurofighter Typhoon multirole combat aircraft and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Protector unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) respectively.
The RAF currently has approximately 40 Tornado aircraft still in service, with the last of these set to be retired in early 2019. ACM Hillier said that 9 Squadron at RAF Marham will be stood down as a Tornado unit later this year, before being immediately reformed as a Typhoon unit at RAF Lossiemouth.
31 Squadron, also at RAF Marham, will stand down in early 2019 before being reformed as the service’s first Protector unit at RAF Waddington. ACM Hillier did not say when 31 Squadron would be stood up again, but it is not expected to receive its first aircraft until 2024.
In terms of the aircraft to equip 9 Squadron, ACM Hillier made it clear that the RAF will not be buying new Typhoons. Instead, this unit and 12 (Bomber) Squadron, which will follow it at RAF Coningsby as the RAF’s second new Typhoon unit, will be populated with Typhoons that were slated for retirement but were spared during the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015.
Jane’s had previously been told by then (now retired) Deputy Commander of Operations Air Marshal Greg Bagwell that these 24 early model Tranche 1 Typhoons would be fielded as a separate air defence force, with the later and more capable Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 aircraft used in a multirole capacity.
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