The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom’s aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history, in particular, playing a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain
The Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 is the RAF’s only air defence fighter aircraft, with a total of six squadrons based across RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth, following the retirement of the Panavia Tornado F3 in late March 2011. Their task is to defend UK airspace. In October 2007 it was announced that MoD Boscombe Down, RNAS Culdrose and RAF Marham would also be used as Quick Reaction Alert bases from early 2008, offering around-the-clock fighter coverage for the South and South West of UK airspace when a direct threat has been identified. The RAF has five front-line and one reserve Typhoon units; 3 Squadron, 11 Squadron and 29 Squadron (Operational Conversion Unit) based at RAF Coningsby, with 1 Squadron, 2 Squadron and 6 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth. On 23 November 2015 it was announced that two additional front-line Typhoon squadrons will be formed consisting of Tranche 1 versions.
The mainstay of the strike fleet are the four squadrons of Tornado GR4s. These supersonic aircraft can carry a wide range of weaponry, including Storm Shadow cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs and the ASRAAM missile. Since June 2008, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 has also been capable of being deployed operationally in the air-to-ground role. The RAF has three operational Tornado units, with 9 Squadron, 12 Squadron and 31 Squadron based at RAF Marham. RAF Lossiemouth is home to the reserve 15 Squadron.
The Tornado was previously supplemented by the Harrier GR7/GR9 in the strike and close air support roles, and to counter enemy air defences. The Harrier fleet was withdrawn in December 2010 following the Strategic Defence and Security Review; the Tornado GR4 is due to retire in March 2019 and be replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Lightning II. On 23 November 2015 it was announced that a total of 138 F-35Bs will be ordered.
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