On December 2nd at 22:30 GMT, following a day long debate in Parliament, politicians in the United Kingdom voted by a majority of 174 in favor of the government’s plan to carry out bombing operations on Daesh targets in Syria.

This sees the RAF joining the US, France and Russia in sustained bombing campaigns over Syria. It is not a decision taken lightly by the British government; undoubtedly commits the our military to a lengthy fight against this terrorist organization.

Logistically, it is a fairly straight-forward move as the RAF is already involved in strategic strikes against Daesh targets in Iraq. Most importantly, it sends a clear message to our allies and marks a major shift in our foreign policy: we are committed to the fight.

So what has Britain been doing until now?

An RAF GR4 Tornado departs Nellis AFB during a Red Flag training mission
An RAF GR4 Tornado departs Nellis AFB during a Red Flag training mission, loaded with live GBU-12 PAVEWAY II Laser-Guided Bombs. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

Since October 1st of this year, the RAF has been conducting air operations over Northern Iraq in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga. This has involved the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft and ground attack aircraft, flying out of an RAF base in Cyprus. Strikes have been carried out near such places as Tal Afar, Ramadi, Sinjar and Haditha.

What assets does the RAF bring to the fight? First, we have the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. With an approximate range of 1,000 nautical miles and 14-hour endurance, the Reaper uses daylight or infrared visuals to perform vital reconnaissance and precision targeting to deliver its payload of 2 GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs and 4 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles.

Next up is the Panavia Tornado GR4. This elder statesman has been in service with the RAF for 30 years, but continues to distinguish itself in combat. With a crew of two (pilot and navigator/weapons systems officer), this supersonic aircraft is capable of maintaining high subsonic cruise speeds while hugging the ground, using its terrain-following radar.