Tornado pilot

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR4 fighters are set to launch air strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets after carrying out armed reconnaissance operations over the IS-held territory of Iraq.

Conducted as part of Operation Shader, the operation was RAF’s first sortie since joining the US-led coalition created to fight IS militants in northern Iraq and Syria.

Currently deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the Tornado GR4 aircraft have been flying intelligence gathering missions over Iraq for the past several weeks.

A UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson said: "Today, following the Parliamentary approval given yesterday, in company with other aircraft from the international coalition, two Tornados conducted armed reconnaissance operations over areas of Iraq where the terrorists threaten the civilian population.

"Although on this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft, the intelligence gathered by the Tornados’ highly sophisticated surveillance equipment will be invaluable to the Iraqi authorities and their coalition partners in developing the best possible understanding of ISIL’s disposition and help acquire potential targets for future operations, either by aircraft or Iraqi ground forces."

Loaded with laser-guided bombs and missiles, the Tornados were supported by a Voyager air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and reportedly returned with their rockets and ammunition intact.

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"The intelligence gathered will be invaluable to the Iraqi authorities in developing the best possible understanding of ISIL’s disposition."

During a session on 26 September, the UK Parliament authorised the MoD to use fighter jets in Iraq, but ruled out any ground presence.

Since the start of the IS offensive in June, the UK has made humanitarian airdrops to Iraqi refugees, and also coordinated with weapons supplies to the Kurdish authorities to aid their efforts in the fight against the terrorists.

The US continued airstrikes against IS in Iraq over the weekend, in addition to bombing militant positions in Syria, along with its Arab allies.

Meanwhile, the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country is days away from joining air campaigns against IS, which currently controls large a territory in Iraq and Syria.

Australia has already sent a military contingent comprising eight Super Hornets and a special forces contingent to Camp Baird in the UAE in readiness for the deployment, Sky News reported.

Image: A RAF pilot entering the Tornado GR4 fighter aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Crown ©.

Defence Technology