Elements of Number XI(Fighter) Squadron deployed to Germany in May 2003 to participate in Exercise ELITE in what was the first international showing of the new and largely unknown Tornado EF3. Evolved as part of an urgent operational requirement during Operation TELIC, the EF3 is optimised for use in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) role and modifications include the ability to carry 2 ALARM anti-radiation missiles in addition to its normal air-to-air weapon fit. After completing the SEAD work up in record time XI(Fighter) Squadron, bolstered by crews from XXV(Fighter) Squadron, was declared operational in the role on 1 March 2003. This is the first time the RAF has possessed a swing-role capability since the demise of the ground attack Phantom FGR.2 in the late 1970s.

Exercise ELITE is a major NATO electronic warfare and SEAD exercise hosted by the German Air Force. The participants included aircraft from UK, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, France and the USAF. The Squadron, from RAF Leeming in North Yorksire, deployed to Bavaria intending to use ELITE as a learning vehicle for their new role. However, they quickly gained the respect of the NATO SEAD community and despite their relative inexperience soon found themselves as Package Leaders rather than playing a supporting role. From the outset the EF3 proved to be a potent SEAD platform and its inherent air-to-air capability brought new teeth to the associated attack packages.

When asked to comment on how the crews were adjusting to the SEAD role Squadron Leader Al Cochrane, OC Weapons on XI(Fighter) Squadron remarked that: ‘Fighter pilots will have to think twice before intercepting a package of aircraft containing the ASRAAM armed EF3’. He added later: ‘The air-to-air skills of the fighter pilot provide an excellent foundation on which to create a competent swing-role Tornado operator. The Exercise has been an excellent training opportunity for the Squadron and I wish to thank all participants for their support, advice and assistance.’

When asked for his thoughts on the new development Wing Commander Nigel Guz, OC XI(Fighter) Squadron noted that: ‘Not only does the new variant of the Tornado represent an important leap in operational capability today but it also provides an excellent platform from which to prepare multi-role Typhoon pilots for the future.’

Participation in Exercise ELITE was the latest in a series of firsts for XI(Fighter) Squadron. In November 2002 the Squadron was the first to deploy operationally with ASRAAM, the Service’s latest air-to-air missile, during their last deployment to the Middle East in support of Operation RESINATE (South).