Exercise 'Saudi Green Flag 07'
RAF Lossiemouth recently played host to Tornado aircraft and personnel from the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) as part of a joint military exercise, Exercise 'Saudi Green Flag 07'. Pictures courtesy Bob Archer
The exercise is the second half of a squadron exchange that began last year when RAF personnel and aircraft visited Saudi Arabia for Exercise 'Lone Frame'. The flying programme included between four and six Tornado GR4 aircraft from 617 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, and eight Tornado Interdictor Strike aircraft from 75 Squadron, Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), which is based at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia. Over two hundred RSAF personnel deployed to RAF Lossiemouth, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Abdulaziz Al-Qdairi.
Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, Wing Commander Rocky Rochelle, explained the significance of this latest exchange: "This is the first time the RAF has hosted the RSAF Tornado Interdictor Strike aircraft," he said. "It has been a great privilege hosting them and we have really enjoyed flying with them on the various different exercise missions. Both sides have learned a great deal from the experience."
In addition to gaining access to the UK Low Flying areas the Saudi jets were able to make use of the Tain and the Wiley Sike Air Weapon Ranges as well as the Electronic Warfare Tactical Range at Spadeadam. Group Captain John Fynes, the RAF officer in charge of the exercise, said: "This is a good opportunity to exchange ideas and gain experience operating with another nation and to reinforce the excellent service to service relationship we have with the Saudi Arabian Armed forces and to further strengthen our defence relationship with them."
"Exercise 'Saudi Green Flag 07' is the second part of a squadron exchange exercise, the first leg of which allowed us to send aircraft and crews to practice and gain experience in flying in the desert, directly supporting our ability to conduct operations in the Middle East and Central Asia."
In excess of sixty-five sorties were flown between the two squadrons. During the second week they were joined by Typhoon aircraft from 3(F) Squadron, RAF Coningsby, as well as Tornado F3s, currently based at RAF Kinloss. The RSAF were cleared to use the UK Military Low Flying System, which permitted them to fly at heights as low as 250 feet above ground level. Operations began with familiarisation flights, during which two RSAF aircraft accompanied an RAF Tornado while their crews were introduced to UK airspace and air traffic control procedures, and also cleared to perform initial low-level work down to 500ft (152m). Activities were progressively expanded to introduce bombing runs at the Tain weapons range using 3kg practice bombs, and to operate against simulated surface-to-air missile threats at the Spadeadam electronic warfare range. Examples of composite air operations during this period included the joint Tornado force conducting training attacks with RAF aircraft simulating the use of MBDA Alarm anti-radiation missiles - in use by both air forces - while Saudi aircraft conducted air strikes. In a key demonstration of possible future weapons tactics, the sorties also involved several UK Tornados carrying two Brimstone weapon systems, with each comprising a rail launcher with three missiles.
Whilst the RSAF is well practised at low level flying in its own country, the pilots were carefully briefed on the need to minimise any disturbance to the public whilst carrying out their low flying training. The fact that there has been no increase in noise complaints to the base is testament to the professionalism of the RSAF crews.
The last three flying days also introduced an air-to-air threat, with four Typhoons from RAF Coningsby initially providing a 'hostile' presence. Exercise activity peaked on 5 September with a VIP demonstration involving a 'blue' force of six Saudi IDS, four GR4s and four Typhoons supported by a Boeing E-3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft and opposed by a 'red' package of four RAF Tornado F3s. VIPs included His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Sultan Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Minister of Defence and Aviation, His Highness Lieutenant General Abdul Rahman bin Fahad Al-Faisal and the UK's Minister for Armed Forces, The Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth MP. Mr Ainsworth was impressed with what he saw: "I was extremely pleased with the day overall and the efforts made by RAF Lossiemouth in providing the excellent support for this visit and the exercise as a whole," he explained. "I have spoken to His Royal Highness, who has expressed his delight in the success of this detachment."
The visit concluded with a series of briefings on the various missions already flown and meetings with personnel from both 617 and 75 Squadron. The party were hosted for lunch in the Officers' Mess before a visit to the Thales Simulator and a flypast by RAF and RSAF Tornados, along with RAF Typhoons.
The aircraft that visited the UK have already completed the first phase of a major upgrade effort to ultimately equip the Saudi 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 Force's Tornado GR4s. "All the aircraft on the exercise are TSP stage one-modified, and stage two will come soon," said Lt Col Abdulaziz Al Qdairi. "Initial enhancements to the aircraft have focused on cockpit modernisation, such as the addition of GPS navigation, changes to some displays and switches and the introduction of a new radio architecture."
"TSP is upgrading the aircraft so that it will be capable of carrying any advanced weapons available not only Brimstone and Storm Shadow," he added. "We hope we will have such as these to make sure our air force has the latest weapons and technology. The goal is to reach the stage that the RAF is currently using with its GR4s."