June 2017 saw the MoD announce that 120 Squadron would be the first Poseidon squadron, with the unit reforming in early 2018. In preparation for the arrival of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, and so as to ensure fully trained crews were ready to man the aircraft upon arrival, by February 2019, air and ground crews had commenced training with US Navy’s VP-30 squadron at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.
ZP804 'Spirit of Reykjavik' seen conducting circuits at RAF Lossiemouth in July 2021
This is how the QRA operates –
A rogue aircraft approaches UK airspace. The approaching aircraft is detected by a team of Air Operations (Systems) Officers at the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) at RAF Boulmer, Northumberland. Using a combination of ground-based military and civilian radars to monitor, detect and identify all aircraft in and around UK airspace, 24/7, 365 days a year. A Recognised Air Picture (RAP) is ‘drawn up’ of the situation - the National Air Defence Operations Centre (NADOC) at RAF Air Command, High Wycombe, collating information from radar sites across the UK and from civilian air traffic and intelligence agencies. NADOC then decides whether the threat is sufficient to scramble Typhoon jets and passes the
'Dull and Grey'
The Order of the Day
Back in 2017 the RAF Typhoon fleet began to lose the squadron markings that had up until then been the norm. Exactly why the unit markings began to disappear is unknown. Budgetary constraints may well be the reason, but aircraft are regularly swapped not just between squadrons, but also between Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby, resulting in aircraft often operating with say 29 Sqn (a Coningsby based unit), whilst wearing the markings of the Lossiemouth based 1 Sqn. The result being that bar a few aircraft, most are now seen as in the photo left.
The Royal Air Force Posedion MRA1 has a crew of two pilots, two Tactical Co-Ordinators (TACCOS), four Weapons System Operators (WSOp) - two Acoustic and two Electronic Warfare (image, right)
New 'Sub-Hunter' arrives at Lossiemouth
Above is a Tornado GR4 from 617 Squadron. The unit disbanded in 1 April 2014 in preparation for transition to the Typhoon at RAF Lossiemouth
In May 2015, construction began on a new section of taxiway to provide improved access between the QRA facilities in the northern HAS site and Runway 23/05, which was completed in September 2015.
Just six months later the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, announced on 4 March 2016 that RAF Lossiemouth was a preferred option to accommodate a further Typhoon squadron and an additional 400 personnel, which saw four Typhoon FGR4s assigned to IX(B) Squadron in February 2019. The unit re-equipped as an aggressor and air defence squadron operating Tranche 1 Typhoons on 1 April 2019, formally 'standing up' on 2 May 2019.
Following the Ministry of Defence (MoD) U-turn on the closure of RAF Lossiemouth, 14 Squadron was disbanded on 1 June 2011, reducing the number of Tornado squadrons at Lossiemouth to just three. In preparation for the transition to the Typhoon, both 12 Squadron and 617 Squadron then disbanded on 1 April 2014, leaving just 15(R) Squadron as the only remaining Tornado unit.
The first Typhoon unit to arrive was 6 Squadron, which relocated from RAF Leuchars on 20 June 2014, followed shortly after by 1(F) Squadron on 8 September, when responsibility for the Northern QRA was also transferred from Leuchars.
In October 2014, work commenced on refurbishing the southern HAS complex formerly occupied by 617 Squadron. Nine aircraft shelters were refurbished, a hard-standing for a flight-line accommodating eight aircraft was built and new floodlighting was also installed. A new headquarters building was constructed on the site of a World War II era K-type hangar, allowing 2 Squadron, the third Typhoon unit to arrive, to operate independently from the other squadrons at Lossiemouth.
With regards to the P-8s weaponry, when the P-8s were ordered the MoD stated that they intended “To bring the P-8A into service
© RAF Lossiemouth
© RAF Lossiemouth
In the ground attack and close air support (CAS) role, utilising the aircraft's externally-mounted Rafael Litening III targeting pod, Typhoon can deploy both the GPS/laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II and Paveway IV bombs.
When coupled with the Typhoon's Helmet-Mounted Symbology System (HMSS), it can see any target by using the same symbology that is in the aircraft's Head-Up Display (HUD) - so when conducting air-to-ground missions for example, the pilot simply has to look at the target and use the Litening targeting pod to designate a weapon and fire it.
Typhoon capability has continued unabated throughout its service
includes maintenance facilities capable of accommodating up to three aircraft simultaneously, a tactical operations centre, training & simulation facilities including full-motion simulators - the first of which arrived in August 2020, and accommodation for the two Poseidon squadrons (120 Squadron and 201 Squadron).
(ESM). This equipment delivers comprehensive search and tracking capability, while the aircraft’s weapons system includes torpedoes for engaging sub-surface targets. The introduction of Poseidon to the RAF is perfectly timed, as Russian nuclear submarine activity has increased significantly over the last couple of years, both in terms of capability and ambition. The P-8 has a crew of two pilots, two Tactical Co-Ordinators (TACCOS), four Weapons System Operators (WSOp) - two Acoustic and two Electronic Warfare.
Baltic Air Policing - BAP
A pair of 1 Squadron Typhoon FGR4s are seen here, both carrying an ASRAAM on the outer port-wing weapons pylon, and a Litening targeting pod on the centre fuselage pylon
The two QRA Typhoons take off to intercept the rogue aircraft flying on the edge of UK airspace, armed with one of the most advanced air-to-air missiles in the world, the ramjet powered MBDA Meteor.
Travelling at supersonic speeds, the Typhoons are guided by RAF air traffic controllers embedded within the Swanwick Centre run by
RAF Lossiemouth is one of two fast-jet stations in the Royal Air Force and known for its close proximity to flight training areas in Scotland and its favourable local flying conditions. Since the closure of RAF Leuchars in 2015, Lossiemouth remains the only operational RAF station in Scotland. It is home to four front-line fast jet units which operate the British Aerospace Typhoon FGR4; 1 Squadron, 2 Squadron, 6 Squadron and 9 Squadron, with all four Squadrons also contributing to the QRA Interceptor North capability, which provides continuous protection of UK airspace. Lossiemouth is also home to 120 Squadron, which was the first of two units flying the newly acquired Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 in the maritime patrol role; with the second Poseidon unit, 201 Squadron, formally standing up in September 2021.
'Voyager Supporting QRA Ops'
During QRA operations it is standard procedure for an A330 Voyager (photo, right) to be launched from RAF Brize Norton to support the mission - just in case the Typhoons need to stay airborne for an extended period and require air-to-air refuelling. A Typhoon taking on fuel from a Voyager is depicted in the image above.
RAF Lossiemouth over the past two years, including a new £100m strategic facility, housing the UK’s new fleet of nine submarine-hunting Poseidon P-8A maritime patrol aircraft. The arrival of the E-7 Wedgetail capability in Scotland will provide clear additional security and economic benefits to Scotland. The Poseidon programme brought £470m UK Government investment in the coastal RAF base, creating and sustaining jobs and boosting the local economy. It is anticipated that basing the Wedgetail fleet will bring further investment and civilian and military jobs to Moray.”
Initially the UK MoD ordered five E-7s to replace the fleet of Boeing E-3D Sentry aircraft, however the order was later reduced to just three. Despite this, the future for RAF Lossiemouth looks bright - with the RAF's AEW and sub-hunter fleets in residence, together with a sizeable fighter force.
© RAF Lossiemouth
Scramble, Scramble, Scramble...!
The Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 is more than just a maritime patrol aircraft; equipped with sensors and weapons systems for anti-submarine warfare, as well as surveillance and search and rescue missions. The Poseidon’s comprehensive mission system features a Raytheon AN/APY-10 radar with modes for high-resolution mapping, an acoustic sensor system, including passive and multi-static sonobuoys, electro-optical/IR turret and electronic support measures
communicate with air traffic control, nor transmit a transponder code (which provides a position and altitude of the aircraft), which obviously poses a risk to other aircraft operating within the vicinity. There are some 40 sites across Europe that monitor such incursions, with approximately 60 NATO fighter aircraft on constant alert to respond to any intruders. The RAF continues to defend UK skies and the rapid reactions of the RAF have demonstrated on numerous occasions how vital our Armed Forces are in protecting Britain, with RAF Lossiemouth providing what is officially designated ‘QRA (Interceptor) North’.
© RAF - MoD
Plans are in place for the Poseidon fleet to all carry names, those allocated so far are as follows:-
ZP801 Pride of Moray
ZP802 The City of Elgin
ZP803 Terence Bulloch DSO* DFC*
ZP804 Spirit of Reykjavik
ZP806 Guernsey’s Reply
Following the announcement that Lossiemouth would remain open, £17 million was spent in 2013 on refurbishing the airfield for the arrival of the Typhoon Force, with a further £70 million set aside. QRA facilities were built in the northern hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) complex and alterations were made to some of the base hangars, along with new IT and communication systems. In March 2014 the first Typhoons arrived from RAF Leuchars to participate in Exercise Moray Venture, a week-long operation to test new facilities ahead of the aircraft's arrival later that year. (cont'd)
Russian bombers have been probing UK airspace since the ‘Cold War’ of the 1960s, with it once again becoming a regular occurrence in recent years - another reminder of the very serious military challenge that Russia poses to NATO and its allies today.
During 2020, more than 400 QRA sorties were flown by NATO air forces in response to incursions by unidentified aircraft, with around 350 being Russian military aircraft. The Russian’s do not file flight plans,
From Tornado to Typhoon
RAF Lossiemouth welcomed their newest Poseidon MRA Mk1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, ZP806, 21 September 2021. The submarine- hunter, named ‘Guernsey’s Reply,’ is the sixth Poseidon aircraft to arrive at the Moray base and will operate as part of the re-established 201 Squadron.
The aircraft's name honours the close bond between 201, the island of Guernsey and Jurat Herbert Machon OBE who named his Mk XVI Spitfire “Guernsey’s Reply” during World War II.
National Air Traffic Services (NATS). Working with their civilian counterparts, they ensure the Typhoons follow the most direct route to their target. The RAF Aerospace Systems Operators at RAF High Wycombe and Air Traffic Controllers at RAF(U) Swanwick continuously coordinate the response with the scrambled Typhoon pilots, whilst a RAF Airbus Voyager with air-to-air refuelling capability is put on standby at RAF Brize Norton in case it is needed to support the Typhoons, allowing them to be refuelled in mid-air to extend their range and endurance. Once the two RAF Typhoons have intercepted the rogue aircraft close to UK airspace, they escort it north, out of the UK's area of interest, at which point the Typhoons are ordered to return to RAF Lossiemouth – job done!
Air Command. Via its two Combined Air Operation Centres at Uedem, Germany, and Torrejon, Spain, they have successfully cooperated and ensured one single standard of Air Policing across NATO airspace in Europe for Allies without necessary air capabilities of their own such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Construction of the new hangar and support facility for the Poseidon Strategic Facility, formally known as the 'Atlantic Building', began in April 2018 at a cost of £132m, and was completed in July 2020. The 33,000 square metre complex was built on the northern side of the airfield and
announced that as part of SDSR 2015, that the RAF would purchase nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft, which would be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
As Lossiemouth was primarily set up for fast-jet operations, the runways and associated operating surfaces were resurfaced to safely accommodate Poseidon operations, with work on the £75m contract commencing in May 2020, resulting in the airfield being closed between 10 August and 16 October whilst the intersection of the two runways was resurfaced. During the closure, routine Typhoon training was relocated to the nearby airfield at the former RAF Kinloss (now under Army control as Kinloss Barracks) - with the Northern QRA operating out of RAF Leuchars.
Boeing P-8A Poseidon
Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP804 'Spirit of Reykjavik' is seen on approach to Runway 05 at RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Lossiemouth is located on the western edge of the small town of Lossiemouth in Moray, north-east Scotland. In conjunction with RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, it provides the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) to protect United Kingdom airspace. Providing the UK’s Northern QRA, the Typhoon aircraft and crews are maintained on high-alert status in order to scramble and intercept any unidentified aircraft approaching UK airspace.
The first RAF Poseidon, ZP801, was officially handed over at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, on 31 October 2019, where the aircraft remained for crew training. It was subsequently flown to Kinloss Barracks on 4 February 2020, arriving at approximately 1.30pm local time, having left Jacksonville early that morning using the callsign ‘RAFAIR 7078’. The second Poseidon, ZP802, arrived at Kinloss Barracks on 13 March 2020. The two aircraft remained at Kinloss whilst work continued unabated at Lossiemouth until the afternoon of 13 October 2020, when ZP802 made the short hop from Kinloss to its permanent home at RAF Lossiemouth. It was followed by ZP801 on the 14th, along with the third aircraft, ZP803. By 21st September 2021, a total of six P-8s had been delivered to Lossiemouth.
Having first deployed into combat during Operation Ellamy in 2011 and Operation Shader in 2015, RAF Typhoons have also been regular contributors to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing role over the Black Sea.
The NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltics is a core UK defence task, and is very similar to the United Kingdom’s QRA - supporting of the RAF’s 135 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW). The RAF has conducted regular BAP commitments since the role was inaugurated in 2004 - the RAF being the third NATO member to conduct BAP missions from Šiauliai, Lithuania. As with the QRA intercepts conducted from RAF Lossiemouth, the BAP missions are predominantly spent intercepting Russian intruders – with Tu-95/142 Bears and Tu-160 Blackjacks, often escorted by Sukhoi Su-27/35 Flanker interceptors, being regular trade.
without significant modification to ensure the delivery of operational capability as soon as is practicable. There are no current plans to integrate Storm Shadow or other UK manufactured weapons onto the aircraft.” This includes torpedoes, depth charges, Boeing AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER (Stand-off Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response) air-launched cruise missiles, AGM-84L Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and other weapons. It is also able to drop and monitor sonobouys.
In the photo right, a British Aerospace Typhoon FGR4 wearing 9 Squadron 'Bats' markings gets airborne from Lossiemouth's Runway 05. Along with the other squadrons at Lossiemouth, the Bats particpate in covering the United Kingdom's Northern QRA sector. Of note is that very few Typhoons within the RAF fleet at either Lossiemouth or Coningsby don squadron markings nowadays.
The infrastructure to support the Typhoons was finally completed in June 2017, when Rolls-Royce opened its Service Delivery Centre on 29 June 2017. The centre, otherwise known as the Typhoon Propulsion Support Facility (TPSF), is operated by a combination of civilian and RAF personnel and provides engineering support for the Typhoon's Eurojet EJ200 engines.
With the expected upgrade of the BAe Nimrod MRA2 to MRA4 having been cancelled as part of SDSR 2010, the Nimrod MRA2 aircraft were withdrawn and RAF Kinloss was closed, leaving the UK without any effective long-range, fixed-wing maritime cover. Project Seedcorn saw RAF personnel posted into maritime patrol units with allied air arms, thus maintaining their vital skills until 23 November 2015, when then Prime Minister, David Cameron,
The first Typhoon unit to arrive at RAF Lossiemouth was 6 Squadron, one of whose aircraft is seen in the image above wearing full unit markings
NATO’s Air Policing is a peacetime collective mission safeguarding the integrity of allied airspace - bringing a system of radar sites and air surveillance and control units, as well as fighter aircraft together under the coordination of Allied
As if reinforcing RAF Lossiemouth’s important role, it was announced in December 2020 that it would be home to the UK’s new fleet of Boeing E-7 AEW1 surveillance aircraft. It was expected that the E-7 would be based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, along with the other RAF ISTAR assets, however the UK Government said that locating the Wedgetail at RAF Lossiemouth will further harness its strategic location and take advantage of its new £100 million state-of-the-art strategic facility and the recent £75 million runway upgrade. Scottish secretary Alister Jack said, “The UK Government has invested £470m in
order to the Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) at RAF Scampton and RAF Boulmer. The CRCs, which have direct contact with RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby, notify the pilots to standby in the cockpits of their Typhoons – and ultimately give the authorisation to ‘Scramble’ the two jets that are on QRA.
The swing-role Typhoon FGR4 is a highly capable and extremely agile 4th generation combat aircraft. Initially deployed by the Royal Air Force in a pure air-to-air role as the Typhoon F2, the multi-role FGR4 is capable of engaging numerous air targets utilising the infra-red guided AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), or the latest US-designed AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). In tandem with the ECR-900 CAPTOR radar and PIRATE electro-optical targeting system, Typhoon is a formidable adversary for any enemy aircraft. (cont'd)
RAF Lossiemouth had an uncertain future during the early 2000s, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announcing in November 2005 that it would be the main operating base for the RAF's new Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning, which was expected to enter service in 2013. However, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) cast doubt on whether the F-35 be based at Lossiemouth, raising fears in the local community that the base would close.
In July 2011 the Ministry of Defence however announced that RAF Lossiemouth would remain open, at the same time announcing that the then based Panavia Tornados would move to RAF Marham, Norfolk, and that RAF Leuchars would transfer its Typhoon FGR4s to Lossiemouth, along with the responsibility to provide the United Kingdom's Northern QRA. As expected, the arrival of the F-35B never materialised, with the Lightning Force also taking up residence at Marham. (cont'd)
life with the RAF - the £425 million Project Centurion seeing the transfer of the Tornado GR4s core capabilities with the next generation radar-guided MBDA Meteor Air-to-Air Missile, the deep-strike Storm Shadow cruise missile, and the laser-guided Brimstone Air-to-Ground (AGM) all integrated onto the Typhoon. Centurion gives the RAF a far more capable aircraft than the one that entered service over 15 years ago.