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Belgian F-16s played at home, as usualTLP 2002/5

Gary Stedman steps over the channel for a flavour of Florennes's regular TLPs

A visit to the Belgian Air Base at Florennes on Thursday 26 September found most of the visiting participants for the NATO Tactical Leadership Programme had arrived and flying the first mission of the course. As is usual for that part of Europe, mist and low cloud was to be the order of the day, although this did clear slightly when the TLP flights began to return. TLP 2002/5 - the last of the year to be held at Florennes - was scheduled to start on the Monday and run for the normal four-week period. TLP 2002/5 consisted of the usual mix of fast jets, along with visiting and support aircraft. Florennes is also home to the BAF's 2 Wing, whose F-16s can usually be expected to be active during the TLP.

ASRAAM makes its debut

Picture courtesy of MBDAThe RAF's four remaining fighter squadrons are being equipped with the latest, fastest and most lethal short-range anti-aircraft missile in the world. A new UK-designed weapon, named ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile), chases down targets using a highly advanced homing head. It can 'see' an image of the hostile aircraft it is about to destroy.

It can go further and faster than the weapon it replaces - the Sidewinder - and its advanced homing head and in-flight agility mean it will be almost impossible to evade.

Pic by Gary ParsonsAt the unveiling ceremony at RAF Leuchars the day before the base's airshow, Air Cdre Andy Sweetman, the MOD's Director of Equipment Capability who has been responsible for bringing ASRAAM into service, said: "I believe this is the best air-to-air missile in the world. It will give the RAF a combat-winning edge and our aircrews the confidence that they can prevail against any potential adversary."

The RAF has successfully completed a demanding series of trials with ASRAAM and the weapon is ready to be deployed on operations. It is a fast, highly agile, fire-and-forget missile for short-range air-to-air combat. It is highly capable even when faced with sophisticated infrared countermeasures. It will be carried by Tornado F3, replacing Sidewinder AIM-9L, and will also be fitted to the Typhoon when the aircraft becomes available for operational deployment later this decade.

Aircrew at RAF Leuchars and RAF Leeming have been training with ASRAAM since January to familiarise themselves with the missile's capabilities and performance ahead of deployment to operational theatres. The training demonstrated the tactical advantages provided by ASRAAM in simulated combat engagements against other air forces in the Air Combat Manoeuvring Range in the North Sea. Training is now complete and the missile is ready to go into full operational service.

ASRAAM is a revolutionary design offering the fastest reaction time of any short-range missile from button press to end game performance. The ability to launch at high off-boresight angles plus the missile's agility, short-time-to-target and effectiveness to defeat all known future threats in the severest cloud clutter and countermeasures environments provides the pilot with significant tactical advantages during aerial engagements.

Picture courtesy of MBDAASRAAM has also been ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to arm its F/A-18 Hornet combat aircraft and is undergoing service clearance and acceptance by the RAAF. The weapon is scheduled to enter service with the RAAF in 2003.

ASRAAM is now in full-scale production at MBDA's Lostock factory in North-West England. There will be a continued incremental development programme with further software upgrades to optimise the missile's operational capability. The total procurement cost is 857M; 9M less than the original cost when the project was approved.



Operating with the usual TLP callsign 'Iglu', all participants (except the Spanish EF-18s) flew on the Thursday, some having only arrived earlier that morning. Unfortunately neither the rumoured USN EA-6Bs (unsurprisingly) or the cancelled eight strong detachment of Canadian CF-18s were present. No Tornado GR4s were noted, although this was offset by the unexpected presence of two Harrier GR7s.

Late arrivals in the morning, before turning around and flying their first TLP sortie later that day were two Leeming wing Tornado F3s. Both jets were observed to be flying with the newly issued ASRAAM (see right) short range infra-red missile in place of the older and more familiar AIM-9. Assuming that this weapon does - now finally - meet the expectations of the RAF then the much maligned F3 fleet has, at last, a capability to shout about. That is, until the AIM-9X enters US service in the near future!

Visiting Participants at Florennes for the Tactical Leadership Programme 2002/5 on Thursday 26 September -

Click23 FS/52 FW F-16CJs 91-0403 & 91-0420;

4 Sqn Harrier GR7s ZD328/09 & ZG479/69;

ClickLeeming Wing Tornado F3s ZE204/UJ (11 Sqn) & ZE292/YY (25 Sqn);

492 FS/48 FW F-15Es 97-0221, 98-0132 & 98-0134 ('0134 arrived that day);

ClickMirage 2000-5s 66/2-FD (EC02.002) & 70/2-ED (EC02.001);

ClickMirage 2000Ds 615/3-JA & 619/3-JE (both EC02.003);

ClickSuper Etendards 28 & 31 (both 17F);

ClickJG-71 Phantom F-4Fs 37+03, 37+98 & 37+26 ('26 did not fly on the day);

ClickStormo AMXs MM7170/2-23 & MM7171/2-15;

2x E/F-18As Spanish Air Force (did not fly on the day).

Thanks to Tom McGhee for the arrangements and both Tom and Andrew Horrex for the log.

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