For two weeks during September, RAF Coningsby became a hive of activity with the base hosting guests from the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF – al-quwwāt al-ğawwiyyah al-malakiyyah as-suʿūdiyyah) as they joined the Royal Air Force to take part in Exercise Saudi-British Green Flag.
The exercise, starting on September 4th, saw a RSAF force of 4 Panavia Tornado IDS and 4 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft working alongside Royal Air Force Typhoons and Tornados in a series of sorties from RAF Coningsby during which the crews gained experience and knowledge of how the other force works. A typical sortie saw eight Tornados and eight Typhoons take off in pairs during two daily waves with one in the morning and another in the afternoon, lasting on average 1-2 hours with each two-ship flight comprising a RAF and RSAF aircraft. The exercise also allowed the two air arms to work in conjunction with the same aircraft types to understanding how to utilise the aircraft to its full potential with the aim being to gain a greater overall effect and knowledge of the aircraft and operating tactics.
The RAF element of the exercise was provided by the Coningsby based 3 (Fighter) Squadron, alongside a composite Tornado GR4 force from RAF Marham, who deployed to the airfield for the duration. It is of note that 29 Squadron were due to deploy to RAF Akritori for the duration of the Saudis stay, however due to the ongoing situation in Syria their deployment was cancelled. Subsequently, the aircraft ‘Boltholed’ to RAF Waddington to make space at Coningsby.
As well as all of the training opportunities, this was the first significant deployment of the Typhoon outside of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It also marked the first time that the air arms Airbus A330 MRTT’s had the chance to ‘trail’ aircraft operationally. In this case, the Saudi Typhoons flew directly from Taif being refueled in the air by the MRTT. Green Flag also gave the RSAF further knowledge on how to employ their platforms with the aim of supporting a detachment at significant range, reaching out their logistic support to some 3,000 miles.
Before the exercise started a fleet of RSAF Lockheed C130H Hercules from 4 and 16 Squadron’s transported the cargo required to sustain the Saudi deployment. With a flight of 4 C130’s arriving at RAF Coningsby on the 23 August, 4 of the type on the 25 August and a further 3 on the 26 August, plus a single aircraft on the 27 August, the scale of the deployments logistics could be seen by the ever increasing piles of cargo outside the 29 Squadron hangar. The C130s routed from Taif (King Fahd Air Base) to Heraklion International Airport in Crete for a fuel stop before routing onto Coningsby. After a quick two hour turn around for refueling and unloading, a fresh crew already in place at Coningsby took the aircraft back on the return journey to Taif for the next round trip with more supplies.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol and aerial firefighting. It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. Over 40 models and variants of the Hercules serve with more than 60 nations. In 2007, the C-130 became the fifth aircraft—after the English Electric Canberra, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, Tupolev Tu-95, and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker—to mark 50 years of continuous use with its original primary customer, in this case, the United States Air Force.
The Royal Saudi Air Force received its first C-130 in 1965, with 3 transport squadrons being equipped with the type and now operate the largest fleet of legacy C-130s outside of the USA. The Saudis currently have some 40 C130s in service (Transport, Airborne Refueling and VIP Transport Roles), including 7 KC-130H Aerial Tankers with 32 Squadron (RSAF 6 Wing) and 5 VC-130H aircraft for the transport of VIPs with 1 Squadron/Royal Flight (RSAF 1 Wing ). Although the Saudi Hercules are going through a modification program, they have requested a possible purchase of 25 C-130J’s, including 5 tankers to replace their Legacy models. The C-130H model has updated Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, a redesigned outer wing, updated avionics and other minor improvements. Later H models had a new, fatigue-life-improved, center wing that was retro-fitted to many earlier H-models.
The bulk of the Saudi detachment arrived on the 27 August with 4 Typhoons, 3 FGR5 (Serials – 310, 312, 313) plus a single T54 (Serial – 322),and 2 Tornado IDS (Serials – 7507 and 8312). The final pair of Tornado’s (Serials – 7512 and 8312) were delayed in Grosetto, Italy whilst a technical fault was rectified on one of the jets and they arrived 2 days later direct from Italy.
A Cessna Citation 550 IIB arrived on the 29th August direct from Italy. The aircraft is operated by 1 Squadron/Royal Flight based at Riyadh/King Khaled Air Base under RSAF 1 Wing and the aircraft departed back to Italy on 30th after a brief night stop.
The Typhoons, arriving as ‘MAZDA’ 1-4 flight , had flown directly from Saudi Arabia carrying a complement of 3 modified ‘Hindenburg’ drop tanks, in common use across the worlds Typhoon fleet. Painted in the desert Kingdom’s distinctive new two-tone camouflage scheme, the jets are operated by 10 Squadron out of Taif (King Fahd Air Base) under the command of RSAF 2 Wing. Currently the RSAF have some 30 of the type in service as multi-role fighters split between 18 FGR5 single seat (Serials – 1001-1008 and 307-316) and 12 T54 twin seat (Serials – 301-306 and 317-322) aircraft. The Typhoons are operated by both 3 and 10 Squadrons at King Fahd air base and the aircraft are almost identical to RAF Typhoons.
Designed by a consortium of three companies, EADS, Alenia Aeronautica and BAE Systems, working through a holding company, Eurofighter GmbH, which was formed in 1986, the aircraft first flew on 27 March 1994 and entered operational service in August 2003. As well as the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Typhoon has entered service with the Austrian Air Force, Italian Air Force, German Luftwaffe, British Royal Air Force and Spanish Air Force.
The RSAF announced its intention to purchase the Eurofighter Typhoon from BAE Systems in December 2005 under Project Salam. On 18 August 2006 a memorandum of understanding was signed for 72 aircraft with 24 Tranche 2 standard jets being produced in the UK and the rest in Saudi Arabia with the last 24 being of Tranche 3 standard. Following contract renegotiations in early 2011, all 72 aircraft for the RSAF would be assembled by BAE Systems in the UK. Some 3 years after the Saudi’s showed their first interest in the type, the first Typhoon for the Saudis took to the air on 22 October 2008 from BAE Systems Aerodrome at Warton. The first of the type (Serials – 1001 & 1002) were handed over to the RSAF on 11 June 2009, with the delivery flights taking place 2 weeks later on 23 June 2009, to King Fahd air base. To begin with all the Typhoons were operated by 3 Squadron, but once sufficient crews became qualified and more aircraft delivered, 10 Squadron was stood up.
The aircraft were trailed across by Airbus A330-202 MRTT (2401) flying as ‘RSF3882’ which landed at RAF Brize Norton after leaving the jets on the last segment of their journey. A second A330 MRTT, 2402 flying as ‘RSF3883’ arrived at Brize Norton carrying ground crew and support personnel. Operated by 24 Squadron out of Al kharj (Prince Sultan Air Base) the Tankers come under the command of RSAF 6 Wing.
Based on the civil designed Airbus A330-200, the A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) is a military derivative of the type and first flew in its MRTT Configuration in 2007. The RSAF currently have 3 of the type on strength with another 3 on order. Equipped with the Airbus Military Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS) for receptacle-equipped receiver aircraft and 2 Cobam 905E under-wing refueling pods for probe-equipped receivers, the aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity of 111,000 kg (245,000 lb) and the cabin can be configured to carry up to 380 passengers. This allows a complete range of configurations from maximized troop transport to complex customization suitable for VIP and guest missions along with medical evacuations. As well as the RSAF, the A330 MRTT has been ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United Arab Emirates Air Force.
Saudi Arabia finalized a deal to purchase three A330 MRTT on 3 January 2008 and ordered an additional 3 in 2009 which are due for delivery during 2014. Powered by 2 General Electric CF6-80, the first 3 had been successfully delivered to 24 Squadron by 31 January 2013. Less than a month later the first A330 MRTT became operational on 25 February 2013 with Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khaled bin Sultan dedicating the aircraft at a ceremony at Riyadh Airbase.
The Tornados arrived in pairs under the callsign ‘GREEN 1 & 2’ albeit two days apart flying direct from Grosetto carrying 2 x 2250 litre drop tanks. The aircraft, adorned in an allover grey scheme, were operated by 75 Squadron based out of Dhahran (King Abdul Aziz Air Base) for the duration of the exercise. Two of the aircraft, 8306 and 8312, are normally operated by 83 Squadron who are based alongside 75 Squadron at Dhahran although both are under the command of RSAF 11 Wing.
Used in the Ground attack role, the RSAF currently have 82 of the type on strength across 3 Squadrons (7, 75 and 83 Squadrons) based at Dhahran (King Abdullah Aziz Air Base). Under the Al Yamamah I contract, signed on 25 September 1985, the sale of 48 Tornado IDS and 24 Tornado ADV’s was agreed. Less than a year later the first flight of a RSAF Tornado IDS took place on 26 March 1986, with deliveries beginning soon after. In June 1993 the Al Yamamah II contract was signed, the bulk of the deal being an additional 48 Tornado IDS aircraft.
Following experience with both the Tornado and the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, the RSAF discontinued any low-level mission training in the F-15E due to the Tornado’s superior low-altitude flight performance. A number of the Saudi Tornados have been outfitted for reconnaissance missions.
The aircraft are currently in the process of an upgrade program at a cost of $4.66 billion under the “Tornado Sustainment Programme” (TSP). The Upgrade will equip the IDS fleet with a range of new precision-guided weapons and enhanced targeting equipment, in many cases common with those systems already fielded by the Royal Air Forces Tornado GR4 fleet. In December 2007, the first RSAF aircraft to be completed under the upgrade was returned to Saudi Arabia. During the first week of November 2009, Saudi Air Force Tornados performed air raids over the Yemeni Sa’dah insurgency Shi’a in Yemeni Northern region of Sa’dah in support of the air arms F-15s. It was the first time since Operation Desert Storm in 1991 that Saudi Air Force partook actively in a military operation over hostile territory.
With the Fast jet element of the exercise coming to an end on September 13, a small display was provided with the RAF Typhoon Solo Display flown by Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris. As well as the Typhoon display, ‘Nos’ was joined by Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX PS915 of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight for a number of flypasts before the Spitfire flew its display. The BBMF’s Lancaster also flew a display for the gathered crowds.
Almost as quick as it had come, the job of getting the RSAF back to Saudi started with the C130 fleet being called upon again. The aircraft started arriving on the 13th for the round trips back to Saudi Arabia. The RSAF Fast jet element departed back to their home bases from RAF Coningsby on 16 September, the Typhoons again trailed back home by one of the MRTT’s. The Royal Saudi Air Force made some 27 Hercules flights in order to support the exercise – a sign of the size and scale of the logistics involved!
Participating Aircraft – Exercise Green Flag 2013
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR5||310(Pre Delivery ZK078)||3 Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR5||312(Pre Delivery ZK080)||3 Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR5||313(Pre Delivery ZK071)||3 Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon T54||322(Pre Delivery ZK090)||3 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado IDS||7507(Pre Delivery ZH924)||75 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado IDS||7512(Pre Delivery ZH929)||75 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado IDS||8306(Pre Delivery ZH939)||83 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado IDS||8312(Pre Delivery ZH945)||83 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||475||4 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||482||4 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||483||4 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||486||4 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||1622||16 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||1623||16 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||1624||16 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||1625||16 Squadron|
|Lockeed C130H Hercules||1630||16 Squadron|
|Airbus A330 MRTT||2401||24 Squadron|
|Airbus A330 MRTT||2402||24 Squadron|
|Airbus A330 MRTT||2403||24 Squadron|
|Cessna Citation 550 IIB||HZ136||1 Squadron/Royal Flight|
The RSAF Typhoons were flown by crews from 10 Squadron for the duration of the Exercise.
The RSAF Tornados were flown by crews from 75 Squadron for the duration of the Exercise.
The MRTT’s operated in and out of RAF Brize Norton (27/28 th August & 15/16th September)
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZA371/005||2 (AC) Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZA472/031||31 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZA473/032||Unmarked/31 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZA604/068||Unmarked/9 Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZD810 102||2 (AC) Squadron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZD842/105||15 (R) Sqaudron|
|Panavia Tornado GR4||ZG705/118||Unmarked/9 Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon T3||ZJ815/BN||29 (R) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZJ912/DR||11 (F) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZJ931/DA||11 (F) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZK305/DE||11 (F) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZK306/BT||29 (R) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZK309/QO-P||3 (F) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZK323/DN||11 (F) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon FGR4||ZK328/BS||29 (R) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon T3||ZK379/BB||29 (R) Squadron|
|Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon T3||ZK380/BG||29 (R)Squadron|
The RAF Tornados were flown by crews from across the Tornado force for the duration of the Exercise.
The RAF Typhoons were flown by crews from 3 (F) Squadron for the duration of the Exercise.
|Dassault Falcon 20ECM||G-FRAW||COBHAM/FRA Aviation|
|BAe Hawk T1A (Photoship)||XX321/CI||100 Squadron|