The British government has temporarily reprieved a Tornado GR4 strike squadron from the scrap heap in order to maintain sufficient numbers of aircraft for a sustained campaign against the Islamic State.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced that 2 Squadron, which had been slated to stand down next March, will remain operational for another 12 months.
Speaking during an Oct. 2 visit to the British base at Akortiri, Cyprus, Cameron also said that two more Royal Air Force Tornados would join the six now striking Islamic State targets in Iraq.
“We want to make sure that we can keep up the tempo in the days ahead, so we will deploy a further two Tornados. We will also extend the lifetime of 2 Squadron for a further year, to April 2016, to ensure we can sustain the effort,” Cameron said.
The British announcement came just hours after France said it would increase the number of its Rafale jets deployed against Islamic State from six to eight.
The RAF has been drawing down its Tornado fleet for several years. In March, two more squadrons were shuttered. Today, some 100 Tornados are in service, including about 46 in the forward fleet and available for operations.
Three active Tornado units remain: 2 Squadron and two others, which are slated to retire in 2019.
After the Tornados are gone, Britain’s combat jet force will consist of five squadrons of Typhoon fighters and an as-yet-unknown number of F-35B strike aircraft.
The number of F-35Bs will likely be fixed in the strategic defence and security review planned for next year. A portion of the fleet will be deployed on two aircraft carriers now being built for the Royal Navy.