Exercise Saudi Sword

RAF Lossiemouth, Moray

27 August - 7 September 2007


Following the deployment of Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su.30MKI Flankers to the UK for Exercise Indra Dhanush 2007, which is recounted here, it was generally thought that things couldn't be equalled. This thought persisted just until rumours surfaced about a deployment of Saudi Tornados to the UK's most northernly fighter station, RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. For once, the rumours appeared to be true and indeed, late August saw the Tornados arrive at Lossiemouth in the company of some KE-3A and C-130H transports.
The Royal Saudi Air Force has been a steady customer for British defence products including combat aircraft ever since the 60's. Their association with UK hardware began with  Strikemaster light attack aircraft and proceded via the Lightning fighter to the current Tornado IDS interdictor bomber as well as the Tornado ADV interceptor. The RSAF ordered a total of 48 Tornado IDS to RAF GR.1 standard back in the mid-eighties followed by another batch of 48 machines in the early 1990's. These now form the RSAF's main attack muscle alongside the more recent F-15S's. Despite having been in service for nearly 20 years, the Tornados have rarely been seen abroad apart from repair and modification jobs with BAE Systems at Warton. 

The RSAF traditionally kept very much to themselves but apparantly felt the need to do some training with other Tornado operators abroad in order to exchange experiences. Possibly because of the Kingdom's good relationships with the UK, the RAF was chosen as a  sparring partner and because Lossiemouth's location close to the Scottish low flying areas and the Tain bombing range, this base was chosen as the exercise's venue. In all, eight Tornado IDS's made it to the UK. All were flown by No. 75 sq, despite some jets having codes starting with "7", thus indicating a 7 sq ownership. 

The squadron's home base is the Dahran Air Base from which many coalition aircraft operated during the 1991 Gulf War. At this base, 75 sq is parented by 11 Wing which also includes Nos. 7 and 83 sqs with Tornado IDS and No. 35 sq with Jetstream 31's. Host unit for the exercise was No. 617 sq, RAF. Home based at Lossiemouth, 617 flies Tornados as well, albeit the modernised GR.4 variant distinguishable by the extra FLIR pod under the nose. Note the dull grey scheme contrasting with the desert scheme still worn by their Saudi counterparts. 

Apart from 617 sq, Lossiemouth is also home to amongst others No. 12 sq. In 2005, 12 sq celebrated their 90th anniversary and fortunately, their anniversary bird was still around. 

With Saudi Sword concluded, one can only wonder how this feat of two exotic air forces deploying to the UK during the same summer can ever be bettered. It propably won't. 

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink