Twice a year the United Kingdom hosts the biggest European military Exercise – Joint Warrior. During the second exercise of 2012, RAF Leuchars played host to the exercise’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) contingent, and a detachment German Air Force Tornado’s. Duncan Monk reports from the Kingdom of Fife.
Nestled in the North East corner of Fife in Scotland, RAF Leuchars is the home to the Royal Air Force’s number 1 and 6 Squadrons, operating the Typhoon T.3 and FGR.4. Although not involved in Exercise Joint Warrior, 6 Squadron were very active over the period of the exercise. Disappointingly for visiting enthusiasts, 1(F) Squadron failed to make an appearance, but they are lacking airframes at present due to only recently standing up at the RAF Leuchars Airshow.
Exercise Joint Warrior ran from the 1st October to the 11th October, involving 10 Countries, 4500 personnel, 40 Aircraft, 24 Ships and 2 Submarines. The Exercise areas are huge, ranging from the Clyde up to the Forth of Firth, and West into the North Atlantic – making a fantastic work environment for the ships and MPAs to operate in. Cape Wrath bombing range, to name but one, and other dedicated live ordinance exercise areas are also used daily by both ships and aircraft.
The elements deployed to RAF Leuchars were the Maritime Patrol Aircraft totalling six aircraft from the United States, Canada and France, and 14 Panavia Tornado IDS and ECR variants from the German Air Force.
The US Navy provided 4 aircraft: 3 Lockheed P-3C Orions from NAS Jacksonville in Florida, and a single Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft from VX-1 (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One – AIRTEVRON ONE), NAS Patuxent River. Joining the US contingent was a single Canadian Lockheed CP-140 Aurora, and a single French Navy Dassault Atlantique.
The MPA assets generally flew a 6 hour mission, with 4 hours on task, and 1 hour of transit/handover time each way. This made it slightly easier to predict the arrival and departure times of the MPAs, but it was pot luck as to which airframe visiting enthusiasts would get to see. Fortunately the Author was able to witness the Atlantique, a P-3C and the P-8A flying in some decent light at some stage over the 2 day visit.
The P-8A is a fairly recent addition to the US Navy inventory, being first flown in April of 2009, with the first aircraft handed over to the US Navy in March of 2012. It made its mission debut during exercise ‘Bold Alligator 12’ in the USA, with it’s second ‘mission’ being the previous Joint Warrior, which saw the P-8A operating out of RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
The German Air Force (GAF) were over in force, with 14 IDS/ECR Tornado aircraft arriving at Leuchars, including the very last frame still painted in the drab olive green scheme – 45+93.
Flying daily, the first wave of German Tornados would launch around 0745, consisting of 6-8 aircraft of both IDS and ECR variants and for a duration of about 90 minutes. A second wave would launch around lunchtime. A third wave was only witnessed on one of the days attended, launching mid afternoon.
Units taking part from the GAF came from JBG33 (IDS fighter/bomber role) based at Baden-Baden, JBG32 (ECR role) from Lechfeld and AG51 (Tactical Reconnaissance role) ‘Immelman’ from Schleswig.
The Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance) variant is devoted to the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) missions. Delivered in May 1990 to the Italian and German Air Forces, the ECR has sensors to detect radar usage and is equipped with the AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile, which was carried by the aircraft of JBG32 during Joint Warrior. The German ECRs do not carry a cannon and have slightly better thrust rated engines, fitted with the RB.199 Mk.105.
The IDS (Interdiction and Strike) version of the Tornado is employed as a Fighter/Bomber for the engagement of various targets. The IDS ‘frame’ is also used in a reconnaissance version flown by AG51. Fitted to the centre fuselage of the aircraft is a Recce Pod fitted with a suite of infrared and optical sensors, which enables it to operate both day and night.
As previously stated, 6 Squadron RAF were not taking part in Joint Warrior but were actively flying 5 – 6 jets most of the day on standard operations, which gave the opportunity to photograph most of the 6 Squadron fleet in fantastic light and sunshine.
It also gave the author one of those amazing photo opportunites, whilst stood on the mound at the 09 end of the RAF Leuchars runway. ‘Leuchars 01’ decided that a performance take off in full burner would be the order of the day. It is unclear who had the bigger smile, the back seater having a pax flight in Typhoon T.3 ‘EY’ or the author, as he kept the departure low before pulling vertical above the runway end!
On Friday 5th October RAFAIR 9040 A/B, consisting of 2 Typhoon FGR4’s (ZK304/EB and ZK333/EH) returned from Albacete in Spain having attended TLP (Tactical leadership Program). Both aircraft circuited waiting to land as 8 GAF Tornado’s took off. Fortunately this again lead to “right place right time” photo opportunity.
8 Hours travelling each way to Fife, many miles walked to the photography viewpoints carrying heavy camera equipment and standing in a brisk chilly wind is not everyone’s idea of fun. But Exercise Joint Warrior once again provided a plethora of interesting, well-equipped and rare aircraft for the enthusiast and neutral to enjoy, whilst exercising the United Kingdom and other sovereign states readiness for times of war.
The author would like to thank Gordon Jones for providing the transport to Fife!