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Strike Command

Strike Command, with its headquarters at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, was formed in 1968 by merging Fighter and Bomber Commands. Later, Transport and Coastal Commands were amalgamated to form a single multi-role organisation. Strike Command's role is to provide a fully operational combat air force, and to this end it controls all the United Kingdom's front-line aircraft world-wide. With an annual budget of 1.7 billion and around 45,000 personnel (of which over 4,000 are civilian), Strike Command is responsible for about 200 units, at home and abroad, and operates nearly 700 aircraft.

Day-to-day responsibility for operations in the 1990s was delegated to three Groups. No 1 Group, co-located at High Wycombe, is responsible for strike/attack operations, support of the Army in the field, and all RAF forces based in Germany. No 11/18 Group, with its staff split between RAF Bentley Priory and Fleet Headquarters, Northwood, is responsible for air defence, maritime, electronic warfare, and search and rescue operations. No 38 Group, also at High Wycombe, manages the RAF's transport and air-to-air refuelling activities.

The new look Strike Command was unveiled in April 2000. The Command, which came into existence in 1968, changed to improve the RAF's ability to carry out expeditionary operations. Strike Command's ability to react to crises and undertake expeditionary operations has been greatly enhanced with the establishment of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and other Tri-Service organisations such as Joint Helicopter Command and Joint Force Harrier. The new look Strike Command continues to be based on 3 Groups but these have been organised around operational capability and collocated at High Wycombe to streamline command and control as well as generate better links between force elements with a similar role.

Major changes saw the disappearance of two Groups, Nos 11/18 and 38. No 11/18 Group, had been formed from No 11 Group - of Battle of Britain fame - and No 18 Group - famous for its maritime heritage - and was disbanded, along with No 38 Group which had operated the Hercules, VC 10 and Tristar aircraft. They were replaced by Nos 2 and 3 Groups. Tornado F3 fighters were transfered to No 1 Group, whilst maritime aircraft such as the Nimrod and Sea King were moved to the new 3 Group. Joining them are the RAF's entire Harrier GR7 fleet which, along with the Royal Navy's Sea Harriers, form the new Joint Force Harrier to be based at Wittering and Cottesmore.

The three 'new' Commands are:

  • No 1 Group, responsible for all strike attack and offensive support aircraft, remains and now bolstered by the inclusion of Tornado F3 units from No 11/18 Group. With the exception of the Harrier, the reformed No 1 Group will operate all the RAF's frontline aircraft including, in the future, Eurofighter.
  • No 2 Group operates all the aircraft and force elements that support frontline operations. These will include the air transport and air-to-air refuelling aircraft formerly in No 38 Group and the Nimrod R and Sentry aircraft from No 11/18 Group as well as the RAF Regiment and Ground Based Air Defence systems. The Group will also be responsible, in the future, for ASTOR.
  • No 3 Group which, last saw service operating V-Bombers in the 1960s, is now the home of the new Joint Force Harrier. The Group also includes Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, Search and Rescue helicopters and the RAF's Mountain Rescue Teams. The Harriers and Sea Harriers will eventually be based at RAF Cottesmore and RAF Wittering as a joint force capable of operating either from land or the Royal Navy's carriers. Uniquely, the Air Officer Commanding No 3 Group will be a naval officer - the current incumbant being Rear Admiral Scott Lidbetter. Other changes in the structure have been made to forge the Command's staffs into an even more responsive unit capable of delivering of air power anywhere in the world, but the restructuring has been an important step in the ongoing process to make best use of available resources to meet Strike Command's mission. Where savings have been made, Strike Command has re-directed some resources to capitalise on lessons learned and build new and stronger capabilities within the Command.

As of 1996, the RAF operated eight squadrons of 12 dual-capable, strike/attack Tornado GR-1/1As. Four squadrons (Nos. 9, 14, 17, and 31) were stationed at Bruggen, Germany. Three strike/attack Tornado squadrons at Laarbruch, Germany, were disbanded between September 1991 and May 1992, and the base closed in 1999. Two squadrons previously at Marham were redeployed to Lossiemouth, Scotland in 1994, and were redesignated Nos. 12 and 617.




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