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21 March 2003 1220 GMT
RAF Marham flies out its Tornados
Pic: Tornado at RAF Marham.
A Tornado prepares to take off at RAF Marham.
The first wave of Tornado war planes flew from RAF Marham bound for the Gulf in February.

It formed part of the military build-up by America and Britain, writes Jill Bennett.

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bullet point. RAF Marham was developed during the 1930s
bullet point.   It has been used as a heavy bomber and fighter station
bullet point.   RAF Marham became the force's major reconnaissance base in 1993
bullet point.   12 Tornado GR1A/GR4As are stationed at RAF Marham
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The deployment underlines Marham’s key role as a powerful front-line RAF station, home to four squadrons of Tornado GR4s and one of Canberras.

The Tornados can be fitted out for reconnaissance or for bombing, and the RAF uses them for attack, reconnaissance and suppression of enemy air defences: a pretty formidable force.

No.II (AC) Squadron of Tornados came to Marham from Laarbruch in 1991. It was the first in the RAF to operate at night with infra-red linescan video, which produced valuable information during the first Gulf War.

Four years ago, the squadron was involved in bombing air defence sites in Southern Iraq. It was the first time in 54 years that the squadron had dropped bombs in anger.

No IX (B) Squadron arrived in Norfolk in July 2001, one of the two squadrons which came here after the closure of RAF Bruggen in Germany. The Tornados are fitted out as bombers, continuing a tradition which goes right back to 1914.

Among their armaments is the air launched anti-radiation missile (ALARM), which is used to destroy or suppress the use of enemy ground-based air defence radar systems.

No XIII Squadron, based at Marham since 1994, came to Norfolk from Honington, which was its base during the last Gulf War.

This was the squadron which helped to pioneer the use of a new thermal imaging and laser guided bomb system developed with GEC Ferranti at that time and it’s been updated since.

The fourth Marham squadron is No 31 and currently it’s out in the Gulf on the regular patrol of the southern no-fly zone.

No 31 is the most recent arrival at Marham. The Tornados flew in from RAF Bruggen in August 2001, two years after taking part in NATO operations over the former Yugoslavia. Again, their role is the suppression of enemy air defences.

Canberra squadron

But there’s more to RAF Marham than Tornados. It’s also home to the last remaining Canberra squadron in the Royal Air Force.

They may be old aircraft, entering service in 1958, but they are valued as a stable platform for photo-reconnaissance from high altitude.

When the Queen visited RAF Marham (of which she is Honorary Air Commodore) at the beginning of her Golden Jubilee year, a Canberra was painted up in its original livery for her to see.

All these aircraft and crews can only function if they have good back-up. That’s where other parts of RAF Marham come into play: engineers, training units, specialist tactical units and of course, their reserve force: No 2620 Squadron.

Reserve force

They are the people who have normal jobs in the area, but train and work with the RAF regularly as volunteers.

Sixty-two of the reservists were called up last week, and if they fly to the Gulf their job will be guarding the flying squadrons and the airfields.

It’s likely that there will be more deployments from Marham over the next few weeks as the political manoeuvring goes on - reinforcing the station’s premier role in the Royal Air Force in Britain.

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