In a look at RAF Akrotiri ahead of the British parliament’s vote on Wednesday on whether to launch air strikes against Syria from Cyprus, the UK Press Association said the western base has played a key role in Operation Shader – the military intervention against so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
Around 860 personnel are involved in the mission at RAF Akrotiri, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it said.
The station’s hardware currently includes eight Tornado GR4s and a Voyager refuelling aircraft, and support is provided by unmanned Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles. The GR4s carry a range of munitions including Paveway IV guided bombs and precision guided Brimstone missiles.
“These aircraft will almost certainly carry out the first sorties against extremists in Syria, should they go ahead,” the report said.
“The fighter bombers have already been attacking IS targets in Iraq since September of last year when parliament gave the green light for air strikes”.
It said that appearing before the Commons Defence Committee, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said more jets would be deployed to the region if Parliament gives the go-ahead for action.
PA said that on Monday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the deployments would be determined by military considerations.
He said: “Broadly speaking, we are expecting to increase the deployment of Tornados that we have already deployed to Akrotiri and supplement it with a deployment of Typhoon Eurofighter aircraft.”
The UK was providing up to a third of the coalition’s “high-end strike capability” in terms of planes and missiles capable of attacking the “highest value and most difficult targets”, according to Fallon.
In addition to providing a home for the Cyprus Operations Support Unit and the airhead for British Forces Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri is regularly used as a training base.
It has dedicated airspace to the south of the peninsula and can “accommodate a variety of academic and air combat manoeuvre training with almost guaranteed good weather”, according to the MoD website.
A mock Afghan compound also allows personnel to train in land-based activities, the report said.
According to PA, the first 30 personnel to arrive at Akrotiri established themselves in 1955, when the Nicosia Airport was closed due to terrorist activity and civil aviation was diverted to the peninsular.
The officer population was bolstered significantly over the next year, including the arrival of an RAF Regiment light anti-aircraft wing.
The station peaked in the 60s and 70s, when Lightning, Vulcan, Hercules, Argosy and Canberra aircraft and Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters all operated there as permanently-based squadrons. By the end of the 80s, only helicopters remained and the station became a training and forward operating base. (PA)