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Marham Tornados could launch ‘bunker buster’ cruise missiles if air strikes go ahead against Syria

PUBLISHED: 13:34 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:13 11 April 2018

A Tornado GR4 takes off. Picture: Matthew Usher

A Tornado GR4 takes off. Picture: Matthew Usher

Archant © 2008

Air strikes involving Norfolk air crews look increasingly-likely against Syria.

There is mounting anticipation that retaliatory military action could be launched against Bashar Assad’s government in the wake of an alleged gas attack on Douma, a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital Damascus.

America, Britain and France are considering a joint response - despite warnings from Russia that it would retaliate if military action were taken.

US President Donald Trump responded on social media after Russia warned the US against air strikes, saying missiles would be coming.

The Syrian government has called US threats to attack “reckless”, saying they endanger international peace and security.

RAF Marham-based Tornado squadrons have been taking part in action over Syria since 2014, targeting terrorists and supporting rebel Syrian Democratic Forces.

The aircraft has also seen action in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It can be loaded with a mix of weapons which include Paveway II, III and IV series GPS/laser-guided bombs, Brimstone air-to-ground missiles and Storm Shadow air-launched long-range strike missiles.

The latter were used in March 2011, when warplanes took off from West Norfolk, flew to the Southern Mediterranean and launched missile strikes on air defences at the start of the Libyan conflict.

Justin Bronk, research fellow at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said: “Due to the threat from Syrian and potentially Russian air defences, any UK participation in strikes against Syrian regime targets is likely to take the form of cruise missiles rather than risk aircraft directly over regime airspace. “Tornados flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus might be involved to launch Storm Shadow cruise missiles from standoff ranges but given the presence of Russian air defence vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean it is more likely that the Royal Navy will be asked to launch Tomahawk missiles instead if they have a vessel with missiles loaded in the area of operations.”

Described as a “long-range deep-strike weapon” by MBDA systems, which produces the missile, the company states on its website that it is “designed to meet the demanding requirements of pre-planned attacks against high-value fixed or stationary targets”.

With a range in excess of 150 miles, the long-range air-to-surface missile, designed as a “bunker buster”, is understood to be the weapon likely to be used if allied military intervention in Syria is agreed upon, and could be useful to potentially penetrate underground chemical weapon stockpiles.

Another potential option could be to use Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Royal Navy attack submarines.

British submarines have been equipped with the missiles since the late 1990s.

European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said airliners should be cautious above the eastern Mediterranean because of the possibility of strikes. It said missiles could be launched from aircraft or naval forces before the end of the week.

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