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Tornados against IS

Nina Werkhäuser / gro
November 26, 2015

The Paris attacks brought changes: Germany has pledged "any form of support" to France in its fight against terrorism. Right now, it looks like the German military will deploy its Tornado reconnaissance jets.

Deutschland Luftwaffe Tornado Recce Aufklärungsflugzeug
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

On Wednesday evening in Paris, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered French President Francois Hollande swift assistance in the fight against terrorism. Within 24 hours, the type of help that will be provided concretized: "We will not only strengthen the training mission in northern Iraq, but also advance our commitment against IS terror in Syria, including the use of RECCE reconnaissance Tornados," explained Henning Otto, the CDU's parliamentary defense spokesman. The Defense Ministry did not want to comment on his statement.

Merkel is holding talks with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere about the kind assistance Germany can provide. After that, they will meet the governing CDU and CSU union and the Social Democrats (SPD) for special sessions. A decision may even be made in the next few days.

Reconnaissance tornado jets are needed

Discussions are currently taking place on the deployment of German Bundeswehr reconnaissance jets in Syria and northern Iraq as they can deliver very detailed images of the happenings on the ground. Very few NATO countries can offer this skill and France has apparently shown interest in the Bundeswehr's expertise in this field.

Roderich Kiesewetter, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the CDU representative on the Bundestag's external affairs committee, told DW that the RECCE Tornado jets can detect IS positions or command posts.

Deutschland Luftwaffe Tornado Recce Aufklärungsflugzeug
German Tornado reconnaissance jets have been used in the Balkans and AfghanistanImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

"I do not favor the deployment of another bomber fleet if others are already bombing," says Kiesewetter. "We Germans should contribute skills that the others are lacking."

Tornado jets are also capable of fighting IS air defense systems by using electronic countermeasures and missiles. IS has modern Iranian air defense missiles and is an "adversary to be taken seriously," said Kieswetter. But first, Germany's parliament must approve the deployment of Bundeswehr staff and that would be easier with a mandate from the UN Security Council.

High-resolution photographs

Reconnaissance jets have already been used in international military missions, for example, in the Balkans and Afghanistan. There, up to six German Tornados supplied their NATO partners with information about Taliban positions. The pictures are taken with cameras attached to the fuselage of the fighter bombers. After the planes have completed their mission and landed, the film must be developed and analyzed, which takes some time, but the images have a much higher resolution and are much more detailed than other types of aerial photography.

Tornado jets are equipped with two aircraft canons and air-to-air guided missiles to defend themselves. Experiences in Afghanistan have been "very positive" said Franz Josef Jung, a CDU politician and former German defense minister. With regard to Syria, he said, "If necessary, the Tornado jets can confirm where terrorist troops are active." The greatest challenge in such a mission is coordinating the members of the anti-IS coalition, explained the military expert Kiesewetter. Something like the downing of the Russian fighter plane by the Turkish Air Force must not happen again. Finding a political solution in Syria is still the ultimate goal.

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