By Bijan Razzaghi
The RAF is retiring the last of its Tornado IDS GR4s this year after 35 years of service. The aircraft replacing them is the F-35B Lightning II, while the Tornado ADV F-3 was replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon in 2011. The F-35B can continue to provide the capabilities previously provided by the Tornado IDS while adding new capabilities that the RAF previously didn’t have.
The F-35B gives the RAF a stealth strike capability that the force did not have before. F-35Bs can perform Air Interdiction while remaining undetected. The F-35B can deploy two 1000lb GPS guided JDAMs or four 250lb SDBs. The aircraft can also cary two AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-132 ASSRAM air to air missiles in this configuration. This configuration is ideal for A2/AD environments.
For operations in undenied airspace the F-35B can cary up to 18,000 lbs or ordnance. This is just 1000 lbs less than the Tornado IDSs payload. Using external pylons F-35Bs can deploy Pave-way series Laser guided bombs, and JDAM series GPS guided bombs, Brimstone missiles can also be carried on these external pylons. The F-35Bs range of 1200 without external fuel tanks is another improvement over the Tornado IDS.
F-35Bs also offer a VTOL capability something the RAF previously didn’t have when they retired the Harrier GR-9 in 2009. The F-35Bs sensor fusion and HMDS allow for better situational awareness while operating in threat environments.
The RAF’s F-35Bs are set to be combat ready by end of this year, while the Royal Navy’s F-35s wont be until 2020.