Revised ISAF doctrine propels RAF Tornado missions

23 April 2010

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Revised ISAF doctrine propels RAF Tornado missions

UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR.4 crews operating out of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan are adapting their methods of
operation to the evolving military and political situation.

Although equipped for both strike and reconnaissance missions, their current operations are much less 'kinetic' than in the past. In keeping with the new doctrine laid down by the current International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, the principal calls are now for low-altitude 'shows of force', maintenance of a visible 'air presence' at higher altitudes, or non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR).

"Ultimately, however, we will engage if the situation dictates a need to save coalition lives, and the current weapon suite permits engagement of a broad target set within collaterally sensitive environments," said Wing Commander Nick Hay, officer commanding (B) Squadron, which currently mans the eight-strong Tornado detachment (TORDET) at Kandahar.

TORDET embraces around 130 personnel, including 24 aircrew, 100 engineers, and additional specialists (such as operations, intelligence, safety and ground liaison officers), its aircrew being rotated out of theatre every 3.5 months. The aircraft have been fulfilling missions at a rate of 500 flying hours per month with the aircrew flying about 40-50 hours per month although they can surge if required to over 100 hours per month.

The squadron senior engineer, Squadron Leader Steve Chapman, told Jane's that TORDET continues to deliver a 100 per cent availability record against task, having flown in excess of 1,000 hours on the current tour, including 250-270 hours in a 10-day period during Operation 'Moshtarak: which was launched in February 2010 to attack Taliban strongholds in Helmand province. The latter resulted in the raising of 550 job cards involving 2,000 maintenance hours.

Normally it is to be expected that seven out of eight aircraft would be serviceable per day, the eighth being involved in extended maintenance work. Flight schedule permitting, routine maintenance is carried out on the other aircraft on a daily basis between sorties.

A DMS Brimstone missile on a triple ejector rack beneath a Tornado GR4

Typically one aircraft pair would be tasked for reconnaissance missions, a second pair for pre-planned close air support (CAS) or 'combat ISR' missions and a third pair for ground CAS (GCAS) alert duty at 30 minutes notice. (In actuality the GCAS aircraft get airborne within six minutes and can be overhead the target at extended ranges within 25 minutes.)

The so-called 'diamond' or theatre-entry standard Tornado GR.4s equipped for deployment to Afghanistan can be expected to be flown
for 600 hours between major overhauls. These hours are not all consumed in theatre, however, given the need to have appropriately
equipped aircraft available for pre-deployment training in the UK.

Sortie length with a standard ordnance load and onboard fuel is about 2 hours, but with in-flight refuelling the duration of a sortie is
commonly extended to anywhere between 3.5-7.5 hours, according to Sqn Ldr Chapman.

For CAS missions, a standard Tornado weapon load comprises two 500 lb Raytheon Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs, a single
MBDA Dual Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone missile and up to 180 rounds of High-Explosive Incendiary (HEI) ammunition for its 27 mm
cannon.

Up to three DMS Brimstone missiles, which have laser, laser/millimetre-wave, and millimetre-wave guidance options, can be carried on
a single weapon-release unit. The modified Brimstone missile was introduced into service in late 2008 while (B) Squadron was on
Operation 'TELIC' in Iraq, in order to fulfil a requirement to be able to engage fast-moving vehicles while causing a minimum of
collateral damage. It retains the 6.2 kg shaped-charge warhead plus precursor charge of the baseline Brimstone missile, which was
designed for anti-armour operations. Together the two charges, nonetheless, generate a useful fragmentation effect which is exploited
in the latest configuration and is also effective against personnel.

According to (B) Squadron representatives, DMS Brimstone has been previously employed successfully against enemy forces
engaging coalition forces from inside a building. The number of missiles expended to date has not been released, although unofficially it
is understood to have been less than five, or somewhat less than the number of Paveway IV guided bombs dropped over the same
period.

One officer asserted that DMS Brimstone is "an excellent weapon, with a low risk of collateral damage and versatile enough to be
aimed at insurgents, at mortar base plates and moving targets". Although its shaped-charge warhead causes limited damage, it can still
be used with good effect because of its high level of precision. It can be launched from higher altitudes than would typically be the case
with comparable missiles such as the laser-guided Hellfire, its millimetric-homing capability effectively offsetting any imprecisions
arising from divergence of the laser designator beam at extended ranges.

Asked why more Paveway IVs are nonetheless being used, he suggested this is partly a function of weapon-target matching and partly
educative, in that DMS Brimstone is still a comparatively new weapon and its capabilities are therefore possibly not as fully understood
within the wider coalition joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) community, which has a high turnover in theatre.

Laser designation is provided for either weapon by the Tornado GR.4's Rafael Litening III target acquisition and designation pod, which
is also exploited for NTISR purposes on the majority of sorties. Its imagery can be downlinked in realtime to coalition JTACs and to
others possessing ROVER III or equivalent full-motion video receiver terminals (such as the Rockwell StrikeHawk Miniature Tactical
Video Downlink Receiver adopted by the British Army).

This facility is being used by ground commanders for tasks such as surveying prospective vehicle convoy or foot -patrol routes and
compounds. The Litening III's image definition is sufficient to allow it to identify tell-tale features that may indicate the presence of
improvised explosive devices. Any finds are reported to the JTACs for subsequent investigation by ground forces. With Litening III,
there is also an option to re-wind the recorded information and transmit excerpts from the stored imagery to the ground forces.
For deliberate reconnaissance tasks, the GR.4 is equipped with the high-definition RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for
TORnado) pod, which is based on a Goodrich DB110 dual-band reconnaissance sensor and has both IR and optical channels. A
RAPTOR aircraft can in addition carry a pair of Paveway IV bombs, these being either be dropped on a set of GPS-derived target coordinates
or be 'buddy-lased' by its accompanying 'stinger' Tornado carrying the normal weapon/sensor fit.

Once the aircraft has returned from its mission, the RAPTOR imagery is subjected to detailed interpretation by the Kandahar-based
Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing. The RAF has elected not to deploy any of its own RAPTOR ground stations that would give the
ground interpreters in-flight access to the imagery, although US forces in Afghanistan do have compatible ground stations which enable
them to have realtime access to RAPTOR imagery if desired.

Aside from DMS Brimstone, theatre-related innovations for the GR.4 include the Advanced IR Counter Measures (AIRCM) pod (a
customised version of Terma's Modular Countermeasures Pod/MCP), and a CAGNET multi-band transceiver (based on a Rohde &
Schwarz MR6000L software radio) which embodies the Have Quick II waveform used for air-ground communications with JTACs. As
an urgent operational requirement, CAGNET is effectively a 'half-way house' for the longer-term SCOT (Secure Communications On
Tornado) programme contracted to Ultra Electronics in 2005, with Rohde & Schwarz as a principal subcontractor. SCOT uses the same
transceiver, but has additional waveforms including SATURN.

Photo 1: A IX(B) Squadron Tornado GR.4 embarking on a mission from Kandahar airfield. Its weapon fit includes two Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and a single DMS Brimstone missile. In addition to the legacy flare dispenser on the starboard wing, it carries a Terma AIRCM pod with integral sensors on its port wing. (IHS Janes/Rupert Pengelley).

Photo 2: A DMS Brimstone missile on a triple ejector rack beneath a Tornado GR.4 at Kandahar airfield (IHS Janes/Rupert Pengelley).

Editor: Rupert Pengelley.

Reproduced from the May issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, copywrite IHS.

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