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04 April 2007

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Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons could be deployed to Afghanistan in the ground attack role to support British and allied forces operating there as early as next year.

Speaking at the stand-up ceremony of XI Squadron at RAF Coningsby on Thursday (29 March), the unit’s Commanding Officer Wing Commander Gavin Parker, said: “We are the second operational squadron, but we are the first multi-role squadron.

“We will be prepared and ready to deploy to Afghanistan next year. It has not been timetabled, but I expect that when we are prepared, we will go.”

XI Squadron is tasked to lead development of the RAF Typhoon’s air-to-ground capability in service. The first operational squadron, 3(F), also at RAF Coningsby, was formed a year ago and has since been refining Typhoon’s air-to-air defence capability.

Wing Commander Parker set out his plans for his squadron: “We plan to have all pilots air defence qualified by the end of this year, and 50 per cent qualified in the air-to-ground role as well. All our pilots will be fully qualified in both roles by 01 July 2008.

“We shall be dropping inert bombs on UK ranges by the end of this year, and we will be dropping live weapons in the United States next year,” he added.

XI(F) Sqn Stand-up ParadeAir Marshal Iain McNicoll, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Strike Command, inspected the ceremonial parade of personnel drawn from XI Squadron and RAF Coningsby when the squadron reclaimed its Standard on Thursday.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, a former Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command, and Patron of XI Squadron Association, and Air Vice Marshal David Walker, Air Officer Commanding the RAF’s 1 Group, where among the guests, many of whom represented industry such as BAE Systems - Typhoon’s UK manufacturer - MBDA and Rolls Royce.

Typhoon, the product of a four-nation programme involving Germany, Italy and Spain as well as the UK, has been in RAF service for nearly four years. The RAF says it has exceeded expectations as the fleet carries out training, operational testing and evaluation.

Some 40 aircraft have now been delivered to the RAF, which have flown well excess of 7,000 hours in service. The UK currently plans to acquire to buy 232 Typhoons from the total of 620 aircraft which have been planned for the four participating nations.

And a last word from Wing Commander Parker: “This jet is awesome. It is a real privilege to fly it – it just does not disappoint”.

Number XI Squadron was formed at Netheravon in February 1915 as the first Royal Flying Corps squadron specifically tasked with fighter duties, soon deploying to France, and then to Germany as part of the Royal Air Force of the Rhine.

Between the wars XI Squadron flew a variety of aircraft before departing the UK for India’s North West Frontier in 1928 and did not return to the UK until it was reformed at RAF Leuchars in 1967.

In the intervening years the unit served in India and briefly in Singapore, and during the Second World War years moved frequently, serving with distinction in Egypt, Greece, Crete, Palestine and Iraq, and then on to Ceylon to defend the island from Japanese Carrier forces. With the Japanese surrender the squadron, now with Spitfires, moved to Malaya, and then to Japan as part of the Occupation Forces where it remained until disbanding in 1948.

Later the same year it reformed in Germany flying Mosquitoes, Vampires, Venoms, Meteor night fighters and Javelins until 1966. Returning to the UK XI Squadron stood up at Leuchars in 1967 with Lightnings becoming the last unit to fly these aircraft in 1988.

XI(F) Sqn Typhoon & Tor F3Tornado F3s followed at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire with the squadron deploying on operations to the Middle East and the Balkans until it was disbanded once more in 2005. Now the squadron is beginning a new chapter with the Typhoon.

Photographers: SAC Scott Lewis & SAC Ben Stevenson


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