Everyone’s spoiling for a fight with the medieval Islamic death cult of Daesh (or Islamic State as it grandly calls itself) – including me.

Prime Minister Cameron wants to earn his credentials as a gun-toting sheriff to take on the bad guys with the black hats and the black flags. But for Britain to go bowling into the madness that is Syria would be pointless to the point of dangerous lunacy.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

On this vexing subject, new pacifist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made the right call, along with UKIP’s world-wise Nigel Farage – so he is not alone.

Syria’s unpleasant President Assad has the country sewn up with some 50% of the rigged vote. His opposition is a disparate bunch of whom only another 50% share the West’s vision of democracy. Therefore there can be no winning strategy or clear exit plan.

The Russians (who have supported Assad long-term and want his Mediterranean naval facilities) have already check-mated the West by allying themselves against all his enemies.

As you will see in the last post, there is little the RAF can contribute in Syria. Arguably they have enough to do against IS in Iraq, which is the UK’s recent legacy.
Believe it or not, Comrade Corbyn is right this time.
Syria is a private party between the Syrians and their Russian guests. The west is not invited.
Our wisest option is to allow no disillusioned British or European poopers from that party back home (remove passports and citizenship) and get refugees funded by Saudi Arabia and its allies under the United Nations.

If Russia successfully finishes off Islamic State in Syria, refugees can decide to go back home.

It gives the West the opportunity to form a diplomatic understanding with Putin that may possibly involve a political change in Damascus that doesn’t leave Assad in complete control. The current opportunity should not be squandered because of sour grapes.
IS 1-C
Meanwhile the West should concentrate in knocking seven bells out of Daesh in Iraq and supporting the Kurds there. George Bush and Tony Blair made Iraq our domain and it is our responsibility to leave it in better shape than we found it.

An achievement that so far is a long way off.

RAF Typhoons

RAF Typhoons


Contributed by Sharkey Ward

Air ace Starkey Ward

Air ace Starkey Ward

Falklands War air ace and Harrier squadron commander

Things do not auger well for Britain’s future land-based air participation by the Royal Air Force in the fight against Islamic State (IS) targets.

It is understood that the UK’s Eurofighter aircraft – now dramatically named ‘Typhoons’ – simply lack the necessary independent laser targeting and interdiction ability to destroy the death cult’s ground assets. This was clearly demonstrated during the Libyian conflict – despite a huge investment by the Government to try and give the aircraft a truly multi-role capability.

Continuing such investment is unquestionably throwing more good money after bad.

The Typhoons’ operational limitations leave Britain with the obsolete Tornado as its fighter-bomber. That is also costing the taxpayer huge amounts of money in order to keep some of the airframes operationally capable.

But even more important than wasting taxpayers’ money – and quite another matter – is to deliberately send ill-equipped aircrew “into harm’s way”.

The Tornado would not be able to evade a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile.

RAF Typhoons

RAF Typhoons

Of course, the risk factor from this and other surface-to-air missile defence systems over contested territory could have been mitigated by the procurement of few A/E-18 Super Growler defence suppression aircraft.

These aircraft are able to identify interrogating enemy air defence radars and blind them by “jamming” and other technologies.

The RAF or Royal Navy could have afforded two of these for the price of one Typhoon or one F35B STOVL aircraft. Such a purchase would have enabled relatively safe operations by Tornado over Syria.

(I hardly dare point out – again – that Britain could have purchased three proven F-18 Super Hornet multi-role fighter aircraft for the cost of one Typhoon or F35.)

The vulnerability of the Tornados’ low-level attack profile to air defences was amply demonstrated way back in Desert Storm when eight RAF aircraft were lost, mainly during operations against Saddam Hussein’s airfields.

Some may remember reliable press reports of a near-mutiny by Tornado squadron aircrew in Kuwait because of their high loss rate and the plane’s ‘suicidal’ attack profile. Allegedly one squadron expressed its firm desire to ‘down tools’ en masse and return to the UK.

Further, both Libya and Afghanistan must be considered operational failures as far as the Tornado is concerned. The aircraft was not reactive to urgent “ground support” tasks, even though it was not opposed by any sophisticated form of air defence – just shoulder-launched missiles and small arms – and it stayed well out of range of these infantry weapons when delivering ordnance.

Indeed, it is little known outside the military that in Afghanistan the original RAF Harrier squadrons would respond to urgent requests for close air support in less than half an hour (wheels off the ground in 15 minutes).

But when Tornados took over, just weeks before SDSR 2010, ground forces were informed by the Tornado hierarchy that all requests for “close air support” had to be submitted 24 hours in advance.
IS 1-C
Shockingly, I understand that the Tornados flew lengthy sorties at high level, clocking up the hours to create the false impression that they were being effective in that combat theatre.

Until now in Iraq, RAF Tornado and Voyager missions have remained well above the range of ground-based small arms and shoulder-launched missiles when attacking IS targets.



Some might say unkindly that they are, in the main, boring holes in the sky (just as they did in Afghanistan) to create the impression of some combat utility.

After all, an occasional pickup truck destroyed by an expensive Brimstone missile can hardly be said to be a game-changer in the war against Islamic State.

However, Russia’s introduction of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile into the Syrian theatre is a major game changer (all targets up to 90,000 feet and within a 250 miles range).

If pressed, Moscow might use the missile and, if in Syrian air-space, gallant RAF aircrew could be lost. I am reminded of Guernica and the Spanish Civil War, when Hitler’s Luftwaffe tested its weapons with impunity. Would Putin do the same?

For example, any Western “coalition” aircraft conducting missions over Syria could be ‘taken out’ by the Russian missile and Putin/Assad would no doubt argue that under international law the coalition aircraft had no right to be using weapons of war in sovereign Syrian territory.

The Russians have already alluded to this by criticising some of the air strikes made by the French following the radical Islamist terror attack in Paris.

By default, Putin and the S-400 threat have now ‘created’ a pretty effective no fly zone.

The situation is a complete mess and, as far as Britain’s efforts are concerned, its military is becoming a laughing stock.

RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus is only 70 nautical miles from Syria. Britain owns approximately 100 Typhoon and 75 Tornado aircraft. So why has it been unable to do more in Iraq? The answer is that it has the wrong aircraft with the wrong weapon systems and it lacks any vital AA suppression capability.

This state of affairs says little for those in the RAF who plan British air power and provide the Government with such dreadfully partisan advice.

In the light of all the above (and the Tornado’s dreadful track record) is it not extraordinary that the Government’s Ministry of Defence has seen fit to appoint two Tornado officers to take charge of the new Royal Navy carriers and their air groups?

It hardly bodes well for the future of Britain’s global national security and defence.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Photo by BAE

HMS Queen Elizabeth
Photo by BAE


Naval aviation against Islamic State

by Sharkey Ward
A contribution from Britain’s Falklands War Harrier Squadron Commander and Air Ace

Britain’s Defence Minister Michael Fallon does not yet seem to have taken in the implications of not having an efficient air force available, now that he has lost the old fixed wing Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

He may or may not be right about the moral indefensibility of the UK not doing its part to destroy Isis in Syria, but he does not understand that we do not now have the air resources to take effectively the fight to the enemy.



(And if we DO have the resources, why are we not using them?)

The crux of this matter lies in the figures that have been presented:

How is it that, with a force of approximately aging 75 Tornados and some100 Typhoon “multirole” fighter bombers (fourth-generation), only 8 aircraft can be spared to attack Isis?

That is approximately 5% of the entire RAF fighter inventory. And, on a particularly distressful note, these 8 Tornado aircraft can only achieve two missions a day – of which very few actually involve delivering ordinance against the enemy.

If the RAF really does end up administering, maintaining and controlling the whole of the F-35B STOVL Royal Navy Fleet and only 12 aircraft are to be deployed on board the Queen Elizabeth, it could be mischievously argued that with the extraordinarily poor RAF maintenance and engineering record only one aircraft out of the 12 may be available for operations at any one time.
So much for our so-called strike carrier!

HMS Queen Elizabeth Photo by BAE

HMS Queen Elizabeth
Photo by BAE

In parallel, Akrotiri is only about 70 nautical miles from the Syrian border and as such represents the nearest comparison that one can make to a land-based strike carrier. Yet given its close proximity, all that space, all those land-based aircraft and all those personnel, the Royal Air Force appers unable to provide our nation with effective air power against a very Third World target, the Da-esh (aka Isis) dream of a Caliphate.

UK ministers and civil servants should take serious note of the inability of land-based aircraft (and more than 2,000 personnel) to provide “Operation Shader”’s 8 fighter bombers to fly more than two missions per day.

Something is wrong.

In the Falklands War, my squadron of 8 Harrier fighter bomber aircraft flew 601 sorties against the enemy in a period of six weeks – equating to 14 aircraft missions per day – and that was with the support of no more than 120 aircraft maintenance engineers, armament personnel, etc.

RAF Typhoons

RAF Typhoons

And we, the Fleet Air Arm fixed wing squadrons, achieved victory in the air against an enemy that deployed ten times as many combat aircraft against us.

I would humbly suggest to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and PM David Cameron, et al, that there lies the difference between the Fleet Air Arm that this Government is throwing away and the land-based, PR-driven Royal Air Force that is very good at “talking the talk” but demonstrably unable to “walk the walk”.

Sadly it must bear the blame for Britain’s current inability to deploy effective air power against the enormous threat of this new Caliphate.

One really must despair of our political leaders who, in spite of advice from proven maritime warfare experts to the contrary, have listened to land-based air personnel who have no successful track record in expeditionary task force combat operations and other forms of naval air warfare.

By entrusting Britain’s future offshore air warfare capability to Tornado navigators and instructors (rather than to seasoned naval air experts) Government, a misguided MOD and an amateur Defence Secretary have surely made Great Britain a laughing stock within NATO, a joke in Russia and, according to Admiral Lord West, “barking mad” in the eyes of the rest of the world.

[UK “Operation Shader” against Daesh (ISIL) : 8 Tornados, 1 Voyager, 2 C130, some Reapers, 2 ISR aircraft – 800 personnel plus complement of RAF Akrotiri (approx. 1500)

FS carrier Charles de Gaulle: ship’s company 1,650 (of which CAG 600) with 40 aircraft, including a mix of Rafale M, Super Étendard, 3 x E-2C Hawkeye, SA365 Dauphin, EC725 Caracal. AS532 Cougar – flying 100 missions per day]