Six RAF Tornados will peep into Iraq

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The Independent Online
THE RAF aircraft joining the US force to exclude Iraqi aircraft from the skies over southern Iraq will do a job which the RAF can do better than anyone: using their unmatched reconnaissance system. But they will rely on US fighter aircraft for protection - as the RAF lacks a high performance, agile fighter.

The six RAF Tornados which were being prepared for desert camouflage at RAF Marham, Norfolk, yesterday, include some GR1a reconnaissance planes and GR1 bombers fitted for a reconnaissance role.

They will fly from Marham this week, to either Dhahran in Saudi Arabia or Muharraq, Bahrain. Tabuk, where British Tornados were based during the Gulf war is considered too far from the main area of interest. This lies in the marshes around the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates in south-east Iraq, although the air exclusion zone south of the 32nd parallel extends across the whole country. RAF sources said yesterday they had not decided where the Tornados would be based, as this depended on negotiations with the host nations.

The GR1a is equipped with a sideways-looking infrared (SLIR) system looking out through transparent panels on the side and the Vinten Linescan 4000 surveillance system, which is probably superior to any comparable system in US aircraft, and was first used on 18 and 19 January 1991, at the outbreak of the Gulf war. The British company Vinten has been custom building cameras for the RAF and the Navy since the 1920s.

'It's a terrific system and it works in any light', said Mark Lambert, editor of Jane's all the World's Aircraft. 'It looks continuously at a strip of ground. The Linescan principle can be applied to visible light, infrared, low-light television.' The pod contains a spinning mirror which gives a complete, near-continuous picture across the horizon which can be seen in the cockpit, frozen, recorded and transmitted back to base using a computer processing and video recording system made by Computing Devices Co.

A total of about 80 US F-15C and F-16 aircraft based at Dhahran and carrier-borne F-14s and F/A-18s will be available to shoot down Iraqi planes. Mr Lambert said the RAF lacked a comparable fighter to escort its reconnaissance planes. The Tornado F3 was held back from the Gulf war air offensive over Iraq because it was felt unwise to set it against Iraqi MiG-29s.

(Photograph omitted)