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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 16:07 GMT
UK boosts forces for Iraq
A selection of Royal Air Force Jaguars, Harriers and Tornados
The RAF could help deliver the opening 'big bang'
Britain is to send 75 more RAF aircraft to the Gulf region as part of its preparations for a possible war with Iraq.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs he was also sending 27 helicopters and another 7,100 personnel would be going to the Gulf, bringing the UK's overall contribution to about 42,000.

The RAF already has 25 planes and 1,000 troops in the Gulf region, where they patrol no-fly zones in Iraq.

As the military build-up continues, that will rise to 100 aircraft, including helicopters, and 8,100 troops, said Mr Hoon.

Air package

The force will include Jaguar and Tornado reconnaissance aircraft; E3D Sentry aircraft for airborne command; and VC10 and Tristar refuelling aircraft.

Hercules transporters will also be involved, with Tornado F3s ready for air defence and Tornado GR4s and Harrier GR7s, providing an offensive capability.

NEW AIR PACKAGE
7,100 more troops
27 Puma and Chinook helicopters
Jaguar and Tornado reconnaissance aircraft
E3D Sentry airborne command aircraft
Hercules transporters
Tornado F3's for air defence
Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR7 offensive jets
The RAF element of Joint Helicopter Command will also be providing 27 Puma and Chinook helicopters, with about 1,100 troops.

The force will be protected by troops from the RAF Regiment.

The announcement means Mr Hoon has now set out the deployments for all sectors of the armed forces.

He stressed the forces were flexible, and would be able to carry out humanitarian operations if required.

If there is conflict, the RAF can be expected to play a significant part in the opening phase of the campaign.

A key role would be helping to deliver what Pentagon officials describe as an "extremely big bang".

Overstretch

Mr Hoon said the RAF was making a substantial contribution to the "building of a credible threat of force".

It was still possible for Saddam Hussein to disarm peacefully, he said, but time was running out.

"The Iraqi regime must decide whether it will comply with its obligations or face the consequences," continued Mr Hoon.

GR 1 Tornado
More Tornados are being sent to the Gulf
Conservative shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said the move "very clearly demonstrates the determination of our country to back the United Nations with a credible threat".

But he was concerned about possible overstretch in the armed forces.

Mr Hoon said he accepted troops had not had the planned tour breaks, but stressed the Tories had rightly not opposed any of the deployments.

Reports that British troops might stay in Iraq for three years were "simply speculation", added the defence secretary.

Like his Labour and Tory counterparts, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman voiced his respect for the RAF.

Vote demands

Mr Keetch said his party backed the deployment, but the troops should not be used without a new United Nations resolution and a vote for MPs.

The defence secretary, however, said that such a Commons vote on some circumstances could risk sending a signal of intentions to Iraq.

The RAF already has eight Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft based in Kuwait, six Tornado F3 fighters in Saudi Arabia and four Jaguar ground attack at Incirlik in Turkey, as well as support aircraft.

Although the number of aircraft is similar to that deployed for the 1991 Gulf War, its firepower will be far greater.

They will have access to weaponry that was not available before.

'Rearguard' duties'

The force will also be able to operate in all weather conditions.

Mr Hoon's announcement is seen as putting the final pieces of the UK force in place for a possible US-led attack on Iraq.

He has already announced the deployment of a force of around 30,000 troops and commandos, as well as a 17-vessel Navy task force.

It is thought that much of the British force will be used for "rearguard" duties, rather than in frontline fighting.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"They work towards frightening scenarios"
Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
"We will make a substantial contribution"
Bernard Jenkin, shadow defence secretary
"It cannot be sustained in the long-term"

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