2016 has been a busy year for the Royal Air Force, with the continuation of airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the protection of UK airspace and the support of NATO allies and the Falklands. 

Here's a round-up of some of the key events in the RAF's 2016 calendar:

Operation Shader

2016 saw the RAF's Typhoons, Tornados and Reapers launch more than 1,000 strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

The UK's mission to eliminate Daesh began in September 2014, after MPs overwhelmingly voted in favour of airstrikes against the terrorist organisation.

More: Cleared To Strike: Inside Op Shader

The more than 1,000 personnel involved in Shader are based at RAF Akrotiri, which has had to account for the growing number of pilots, engineers and other staff living there. 

More: Leap In Quality For Op Shader Accommodation

With coalition support 2016 has seen ISIS lose ground. In the words of Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier:

"We're fighting and we're winning there"

Despite coalition success elsewhere the battle to retake the urban stronghold of Mosul is still ongoing and Iraqi forces have come under heavy resistance. 

More: The Two-Year Fight Against IS

F-35 Arrives At RIAT

2016 also saw the long-awaited appearance of the F-35, scheduled to be brought into use in the UK by 2018, at the Royal International Air Tattoo. 

The appearance was heavily delayed with promises of the stealth fighter appearing at RIAT dating back to 2014.

More: Hopes For F35 To Appear At RIAT 2014 Fading

The fifth-generation multirole fighter is being billed as the world's only supersonic, STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing), stealth aircraft.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon called the F-35B's:

“The most advanced fast jets in the world. Whether operating from land or from one of our two new aircraft carriers, they will ensure we have a formidable fighting force.”

Despite the controversy (US Senator and former Republican candidate for president John McCain said it had been "both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance", the appearance of the fast jet left a good impression on those who attended the show. 

More: F-35 Development A "Scandal And A Tragedy"

More: An Up-Close Look At The F-35

The RAF Heads To Asia...

As tensions heightened between North Korea and the West, the RAF sent four Eurofighter Typhoons to exercise in South Korea.

More: North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strikes On US And South

Exercise Invisible Shield marked the first ever combined air exercise between the Republic of Korea, the US and the UK.

The RAF also trained alongside the Japanese and Malaysian air forces during a tour of the Far East.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said of the exercise:

"We are trying to demonstrate the Royal Air Force's capability to exercise a global reach; to work with our partner air forces... and show that the UK is a global player with global interests."

The tour to Asia was a logistical challenge because the maximum range of a Typhoon is only 3,790 km (2,350 miles), and so they were accompanied on the journey by Voyager tanker aircraft to refuel them several times on the way.
 
The exercises also provided a chance to showcase the fighter jets' interoperability and capabilities for potential foreign buyers.

More: RAF Typhoons Head To Far East Amid Heightened Tensions

...The Red Arrows Go Along Too

After a redesign in 2015, the Red Arrows made sure that as many people around the globe would see the new-look aircraft.

More: Red Arrows Unveil New Union Flag Design

The Reds also went to the Far East on a major summer tour.

The world-famous aerobatics team performed in India, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

More: Red Arrows Show Off In Asia

The later performance marked the first time the Hawk T1 jets have put on a show in China.

More: Red Arrows To Perform In China For First Time

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said of the tour:

"Our RAF Red Arrows and Typhoons represent the best of British. The Red Arrows will fly the flag for Britain in key export markets while our RAF Typhoons will exercise with our allies."

Despite some setbacks this year - the Red Arrows had to cancel stunts at Britain's biggest airshow for the first time in more than 50 years due to safety fears after the Shoreham disaster - the Asia tour was considered a success, after they returned safely from their 17,000 mile tour.

More: The Reds Are Home After 17,000 Mile Tour

More: Rare Archive Documentary: 1972 Red Arrows Operation Longbow

As 2017 quickly approaches many RAF staff will be working over the holidays.

Sir Stephen Hillier, and CASWO, WO Jon Crossley, while sharing their Christmas message to the RAF, also took the chance to look back and reflect on the year.  

 

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