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Friday, December 18, 1998 Published at 13:04 GMT

Tornado crew: In the front line

12 Squadron: Successful sorties on Thursday

An airman's guide to survival. Click here

The Royal Air Force's favoured Tornado fighter-bomber joined sorties into Iraq as part of the missions against Saddam Hussein's military capability.

Kate Adie in Kuwait: "The Tornados flew in three waves"
But while the aircraft may have been armed with the best weaponry available, the task for the pilot and navigator is always daunting.

A dozen Tornado GR1 aircraft from Scotland's RAF Lossiemouth base led the UK's assault.

John Nichol, one of two RAF airmen taken hostage during the 1991 Gulf War, told the BBC that keeping in touch with families is essential.

"It is incredibly important for the morale of the whole force that the people back home, not only the wives and the lived ones, but the rest of the people involved in that operation know what's going on," he said.

"You do phone your loved ones regularly.

[ image:  ]
"You have to be careful but we're well versed in this and there's some very professional wives back home who have been through this before."

Mr Nichol said that the Ministry of Defence's attitude had changed since 1991.

"It is unsual that many of the wives are being put up to speak," he said.

"I think we are taking a softer approach, I think we are trying to put a human face on the war."

Group Captain Alan Hudson of RAF Lossiemouth said the Tornado crews had been in "good heart" after they had returned from their first "highly succssful" sorties.

Watch an infra-red camera recording of a Tornado bombing an Iraqi radar installation
Back at Lossiemouth, families said they were standing firm for the crews stationed in the Gulf.

Zoe Barnes, 28, wife of Wing Commander Steve Barnes - a Gulf War veteran who is leading the Tornado squadron, said: "There is a lot of anxiety, but the support network is excellent.

"That is what keeps us going and what keeps us happy. We wives are a tough breed.

"When we talk to our husbands on the phone we don't cry - the men know our emotions about them - they know we are worrying about them."

Heavily armed

The dozen aircraft from Lossiemouth launched sorties from Ali Al Salem in Kuwait as part of "rolling operations".

Each twin-seater twin-engined aircraft can maintain supersonic speeds at all altitudes.

[ image: Targeted: A Tornado aims at a radio mast]
Targeted: A Tornado aims at a radio mast
Among the Tornado's possible armaments are the JP233 anti-airfield weapon, the ALARM anti-radar missile and laser-guided bombs.

It also carries Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a twin internal 27mm cannon for self defence.

But the key weapon is the "bunker buster" Paveway 3 laser-guided bomb, weighing 2000lbs, a weapon said to be so accurate it can land within three metres of its target.

At the correct angle of release, it can penetrate solid structures before detonating.

One of the major military advances that offered crews greater protection than they had in the Gulf War is the Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator (TIALD).

[ image: Destroyed: The laser-guided payload hits its target]
Destroyed: The laser-guided payload hits its target
This allows pilots to stay at higher altitudes and maintain targeting without putting the two-man crew at undue risk.

Each bombing run involved four airmen in two aircraft, the first leading and targeting, the second carrying the majority of the payload.

Once a target is identified, the pilots use sophisticated military technology to exchange data before dropping ordnance with split second timing.


During the 1991 Gulf War, six of the UK's GR1 contingent were lost in combat - representing a quarter of the allied losses despite the RAF flying only 4% of the missions.

Among these was the bomber crewed by Flt Lts John Peters and John Nichol.

The pair ejected safely but were captured, tortured and later shown on Iraqi television after being subject to beatings.

If a two-man crew survive being shot down, they do have a chance to make it home.

No crewman flies a mission without a combat waistcoat that includes a survival kit to help them fight, persuade or bribe their way to safety.

Ready to go

Around 420 British personnel are currently stationed at Ali Al Salem and are working with members of the Kuwaiti air force.

Earlier in the year, the UK's Defence Secretary George Robertson visited the crews.

One veteran of 20 Gulf War sorties described the life of a crew as: "long periods of doing nothing and short periods of excitement".

But he added: "We are ready to go."

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Jane's Sentinel: Review of Iraqi military

The RAF: Tornado facts


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In this section

Containment: The Iraqi no-fly zones

HMS Invincible: A city at sea

Calm after the storm

Which targets were hit

'Drones of death' hit by Tornados

Tornado crew: In the front line

The airman's guide to survival

The role of 'smart' weapons

'Sharp increase' in US troops in Gulf

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction