Operation Shader: Four Years Fighting The Islamic State Group

It began as a humanitarian aid operation but has grown into a complicated mission to try and defeat IS.

Tornado GR4 takes off from RAF Akrotiri (Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright).

Operation Shader - the UK's contribution to the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) - is almost four.

Since 2014, RAF aircrew based in Cyprus have been flying daily missions over Iraq and Syria as part of a coalition of nations fighting IS, also known as Daesh.

The Operation began as a humanitarian aid mission but has grown into a complicated mission to try and defeat IS.

The coalition launched Operation Roundup earlier this year to clear what remains of the terror group in Syria.

Air Commodore Roddy Dennis, the commander of the UK air component:

"We're targetting that hardcore element that's left.

"What we see ourselves now is in that final stage of removing those hardened fighters that have sought solace somewhere down in the southern eastern part of Syria and we're having really good success at closing that out.

"I'm very confident that we will see the ultimate demise of Daesh in the southeastern part of Syria, but it will take some time to do that."


RAF Tornado GR4: A Key Component

One of the RAF's aircraft with a key role in the Shader mission is the outgoing Tornado GR4.

Involved from the very start of the operation, they have gathered intelligence and launched hundreds of airstrikes against IS.

Squadron Leader Colin Bolstrom is a Tornado weapons systems operator who has completed several Shader tours.

He says he has seen the fight against IS evolve over time: "The range of missions the Tornado's completed over the years has changed.

"When I first arrived in Shader we flew aid from this hangar over to Mount Sinjar and supporting refugees.

"We're now supporting the defeat of Daesh, dropping weapons and providing support.

"The most intensive period is when we're targeting, especially over Mosul."


RAF Voyager Tanker: Op Shader's Backbone

Based on an Airbus A330, the Voyager is part transport plane, part filling station.

The tanker carries around 100 tonnes of fuel and has kept the fighter jets flying with air-to-air refuelling.

On average, RAF jets will refuel two or three times per sortie, depending on the aircraft.

The older Tornados take up to six tonnes each time, while the more economical Typhoons only need three.


RAF Typhoon: The UK's Only Frontline Jet... For Now?

The Typhoons joined the war on Islamic State in late 2015, when Parliament voted to extend the fight against IS into Syria.

The RAF currently has six of them based at Akrotiri in Cyprus.

With the Tornado due to retire next March, and the F-35 not yet ready for active service, the Typhoon will become the UK’s sole frontline jet for a while.

Whether more will be sent to Akrotiri to bolster the force here has not yet been revealed.

What equipment does a Typhoon pilot use? Sqn Ldr Graham Duff has been showing us around.