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Tornadoes here to stay - base chief

PUBLISHED: 20:41 17 June 2008 | UPDATED: 10:54 08 July 2010

Tornado aircraft will still be a familiar sight in Norfolk's skies until 2025, RAF Marham's departing commander said this week.

Air Commodore Phil Osborn, who is leaving to take up a Whitehall defence post, handed over control of the station to his successor, Group Capt Colin Basnett at a ceremony on the base.

Tornado aircraft will still be a familiar sight in Norfolk's skies until 2025, RAF Marham's departing commander said this week.

Air Commodore Phil Osborn, who is leaving to take up a Whitehall defence post, handed over control of the station to his successor, Group Capt Colin Basnett at a ceremony on the base.

Air Commodore Osborn said that while the Ministry of Defence planned to phase out Tornados in favour of the more advanced Typhoon Eurofighter, he knew of no plans to cut any of Marham's four squadrons. Reviews in defence spending have already led to the scrapping of a Tornado F3 squadron at RAF Leuchars, in Scotland, earlier this year.

But Marham's newer GR4 aircraft are not due to reach the end of their service until 2025, and the Air Commodore said the size and importance of the base - the second biggest in the country - would ensure it continued to play its vital role in the country's defence after that date.

“As far as I know there are no plans to draw down the number of Tornado squadrons,” he added. “As the air force becomes more effective and focused on expeditionary operations we are drawing down to become larger, but fewer, bases.

“There is still a long way to go as far as the Tornado is concerned, but because Marham is one of the RAF's largest bases it gives it a future beyond the Tornado. There can't be many organisations which can be confident of their future for 20 years.”

During his 18 months in command at Marham, Air Commodore Osborn has overseen massive investment in the base, with Rolls Royce and BAE Systems contractors now working alongside RAF engineers to service the country's entire Tornado fleet.

He said: “It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to serve at Marham. To command a station like this is the pinnacle of your career.”

Group Capt Basnett, 47, began his RAF career as an air traffic controller at RAF Coltishall in 1979 before training as a navigator and officer. He has also served in Germany, America and Saudi Arabia and made two operational tours in the Middle East.

“I am over the moon to be given this position,” he said. “The Air Commodore's loss is my gain.

“In the short term it is about stepping up to the plate and delivering to the same standard the Air Commodore has achieved over the last 18 months.”

Group Capt Basnett agreed that the base was well placed to take on new Eurofighter squadrons after the Tornados reached the end of their life - safeguarding the jobs of the 3,000 military and civilian personnel at the base.

Both officers took part in a flypast over Buckingham Palace to celebrate the birthday of the Queen - Marham's Honorary Commodore. Air Commodore Osborn said: “It will be the last time I fly a Tornado. It is pretty sad, but there is no better way to hand over command of RAF Marham than in front of the Queen.”

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