Why it makes sense to Make it Marham

The motto under the station crest says simply: Deter.

Its mission statement: To provide and support offensive airpower.

To our soldiers pinned down by insurgents in Afghanistan, that all adds up to one thing: Survival.

Over the last 18 months squadrons from Marham have been operating over war-torn Helmand, where most of the 345 British servicemen and women killed since the conflict began in 2001 have lost their lives.

Tornadoes patrol the skies, ready to go to the assistance of allied ground troops. As well as devastating firepower, the 650mph jets bristle with the latest surveillance equipment.

Their Raptor and Litening pods can scan the ground for hostile forces and beam back live pictures to those operating below.

The equipment is so sensitive it can spot areas of disturbed soil – perhaps indicating the presence of a lethal IED (improvised explosive device).

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Just hours after prime minister David Cameron announced that the Tornado fleet would survive the Strategic Defence Spending Review, XIII Sqn returned to Marham after handing over operations in Afghanistan to Lossiemouth-based 14 Squadron.

During their three-month tour defence secretary Liam Fox visited XIII in theatre, to see their work at first hand.

Perhaps that helped make the case to keep the Tornado, instead of its stable mate the Harrier, which is being retired from service.

For months before the final announcement, it was taken for granted by many that the axe would fall on the Tornado force, not the jump jets.

Now the focus has shifted to whether the aircraft should be based at Marham or Losssiemouth.

Marham is home to an entire expeditionary air wing. That means the base has all the elements needed to send aircraft anywhere they are required and maintain them.

Lossiemouth is home to three Tornado squadrons, a conversion unit and an air sea rescue flight.

As well as the military side, Marham also hosts civilian contractors who look after the jets, with hundreds employed on-site by BAE Systems.

Moved to Norfolk barely five years ago, at a cost of tens of millions, it is estimated it would cost �50m to transfer the advanced maintenance facilities elsewhere.

While most of its squadron personnel are currently between operations, there is no let up in the pace. Training is continuous, with aircraft flying daily sorties.

Marham is close to the main training areas used by the ground forces the Tornado force is often called in to support.

A replica Afghan village has been constructed at the STANTA Training Area, near Thetford. Elsewhere, the rolling Norfolk countryside is similar to the terrain the aircraft will be operating over in theatre, so both air crews and troop detachments train side by side prior to being deployed.

Marham is also close to the bombing ranges along The Wash, where aircraft also practise.

Elsewhere, the waters are choppy. Former senior naval officers wrote to The Times demanding the decision to scrap the Harrier be reversed.

In reply, the chiefs of staff leading the defence review said: 'The decision to withdraw Harrier from service and to retain a reduced Tornado force had to balance our current needs in Afghanistan with the intent to rationalise our fast jet fleets.

'After very careful consideration our military advice was to retain the more capable Tornado. Harrier's contribution has been huge but the decision to withdraw it is the right thing to do in the circumstances and a decision that we collectively agreed.'

If the Tornado is more suited to our future defence needs than the Harrier, Marham is best-equipped to maintain both the aircraft and the skills of those who fly them.