The US has already conducted more 150 airstrikes against the group calling themselves Islamic State (IS) since September 10th and governments from around the world are gearing up to join in. The UK's Royal Air Force has just brought their contribution to the table in the form of a fleet of low-flying penetrators.
The RAF's Tornado GR4 is a multi-role two-seater combat jet designed and built by Pranavia GmbH specifically to penetrate enemy air defences and deliver precision strikes against high-value targets. It first entered service with the RAF in 1991 during the first Gulf War and has seen combat in every fight since.
The GR4 utilises a number of advanced features during its intrusions into enemy airspace including variable-sweep wings, which tuck back against the fuselage during fast low-level flight, much like a falcon's wings hug its body during high speed dives; state-of-the-art avionics and fly-by-wire controls including the Tornado Advanced Radar Display Information System (TARDIS!!!), terrain-hugging autopilot, and the long-range Foxhound doppler system that can track up to 20 targets at a range of 100 miles.
It also carries the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod, one of the most advanced systems of its kind. As the RAF website explains:
The RAPTOR pod is one of the most advanced reconnaissance sensors in the world and greatly increases the effectiveness of the aircraft in the reconnaissance role. Its introduction into service gave the GR4 the ability to transmit real-time, Long Range Oblique Photography (LOROP) to commanders or to view this in cockpit during a mission. The stand-off range of the sensors also allows the aircraft to remain outside heavily defended areas, thus minimising the aircraft's exposure to enemy air-defence systems. Additional capability in the Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) role is provided by the Litening III RD and the use of the ROVER data link for providing tactical operators with real time Full Motion Video (FMV) in the battle space.
Powered by a pair of 16,000 lbf Rolls Royce RB199 Mk103 turbofans, the GR4 is capable of hitting mach 1.3 at 30,000 feet before diving low to avoid enemy radar and streaking along the deck for up 870 miles. Once it acquires its target, there isn't much the GR4 can't hit it with — the jet can carry most every weapon in the NATO arsenal. It's outfitted with a pair of Mauser 27mm auto-cannons and can carry up to 19,800 pounds (nine metric tonnes) of bombs, guided munitions and air-to-air missiles.
During this first foray into Iraq, the GR4 is carrying 2,000-pound (900-kilo) Paveways and Brimstone missiles, though it can carry everything from sidewinders to nuclear-tipped B61's. Which, hopefully won't ever be required. [The Independent - Wiki - RAF]