Panavia Tornado

Panavia Tornado
Tornado IDS/ECR
A Royal Air Force Tornado in flight during Operation Iraqi Freedom
Role Multirole fighter
Manufacturer Panavia Aircraft GmbH
First flight 14 August 1974
Introduction 1979
Status Operational
Primary users Royal Air Force
Italian Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Produced 1979–1998
Number built 992
Variants Panavia Tornado ADV

The Panavia Tornado is a family of twin-engine, variable-sweep wing combat aircraft, which was jointly developed by the United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy. There are three primary versions of the Tornado; the Tornado IDS (interdictor/strike) fighter-bomber, the suppression of enemy air defences Tornado ECR (electronic combat/reconnaissance) and the Tornado ADV (air defence variant) interceptor.

Developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium consisting of British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation), MBB of West Germany, and Aeritalia of Italy, the Tornado first flew on 14 August 1974.[1] It saw action with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Italian Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force in the Gulf War. International co-operation continued after its entry into service within the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, a tri-nation training and evaluation unit operating from RAF Cottesmore, UK. Including all variants, 992 aircraft were built for the three partner nations and Saudi Arabia.




During the 1960s, aeronautical designers looked to variable geometry wing designs to gain the manoeuvrability and efficient cruise of straight wings with the speed of swept-wing designs. The United Kingdom had cancelled the procurement of the TSR-2 and subsequent F-111K aircraft, and was still looking for a replacement for its Avro Vulcan and Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft.[2] Britain and France had initiated the AFVG (Anglo French Variable Geometry) project in 1965, but this had ended with French withdrawal in 1967.[3] Britain continued to develop a variable geometry aircraft similar to the proposed AFVG, and sought out new partners in order to achieve this.[4]

In 1968, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Canada formed a working group to examine replacements for the F-104 Starfighter,[5] initially called the Multi Role Aircraft (MRA), later renamed as the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).[6][7] The participating nations all had ageing fleets that required replacing, but as the requirements were so diverse it was decided to develop a single aircraft that could perform a variety of missions that were previously undertaken by a fleet of different aircraft.[8] Britain joined the MRCA group in 1968, represented by Air Vice-Marshal Michael Giddings, and a memorandum of agreement was drafted between Britain, West Germany, and Italy in May 1969.[9]

By the end of 1968, the prospective purchases from the six countries amounted to 1500 aircraft.[10] Canada and Belgium had departed before any long-term commitments had been made to the program;[11] Canada had found the project politically unpalatable; there was a perception in political circles that much of the manufacturing and specifications were focused upon Western Europe.[11] France had made a favourable offer to Belgium on the Dassault Mirage S, which created suitable doubt about whether the MRCA would be worthwhile from Belgium's operational perspective.[11]

Formation take-off of an RAF Tornado GR.1 and a Tornado F.2 prototype

Conceptually, the MRCA project was to produce an aircraft to perform in the tactical strike/reconnaissance, air defence, and maritime strike roles, allowing to replace multiple aircraft at that time in use by the partner nations.[2][5] Various concepts, including alternative fixed-wing designs, and single or twin-engines, were studied while defining the aircraft.[12] The four remaining partner nations – United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, formed Panavia Aircraft GmbH on 26 March 1969.[2][5]

The Netherlands pulled out of the project in 1970, citing that the aircraft was too complicated and technical for the RNLAF's preferences,[2] which had sought a simpler aircraft with outstanding manoeuvrability.[13] An additional blow was struck by the German requirement for aircraft falling from the starting 600 to 324, almost half, in 1972.[14]

In the final agreement, the United Kingdom and West Germany each had a 42.5% stake of the workload, with the remaining 15% going to Italy; this division of the production work was heavily influenced by international political bargaining.[15] The front fuselage and tail assembly was assigned to BAC (now BAE Systems) in the United Kingdom; the centre fuselage to MBB (now EADS) in West Germany; and the wings to Aeritalia (now Alenia Aeronautica) in Italy.[16][17] Similarly, tri-national worksharing was used for engines, general and avionic equipment. A separate multinational company, Turbo-Union, was formed in June 1970 to develop and build the RB199 engines for the aircraft, with ownership similarly split 40% Rolls-Royce, 40% MTU, and 20% FIAT.[2][18]

A formation including a USAF F-15C, West German Tornado and RAF Tornado in 1987

At the conclusion of the project definition phase in May 1970, the concepts were reduced to two designs; a single seat Panavia 100 which West Germany initially preferred, and the twin seat Panavia 200 which the RAF preferred and which would become the Tornado.[18] Briefly called the Panavia Panther, the project soon coalesced as a "two-seater".[19] In September 1971, the three governments signed an Intention to Proceed (ITP) document, at which point the aircraft was intended solely for the low-level strike mission, where it was viewed as a viable threat to Soviet defences in that role.[20] The British Chief of the Defence Staff announced that "some two thirds of the fighting front line will be composed of this single, basic aircraft type",[16] in addition the development of the Tornado ADV pressed ahead for RAF usage.[16] In 1976 Soviet espionage efforts upon the developing fighter were uncovered.[21]

The Tornado is also capable of delivering air-based nuclear weapons. In 1979 Britain was considering replacing its Polaris submarines, either with Trident-equipped submarines or alternatively using the Tornado as the main bearer of its nuclear deterrent.[22] Although Trident would become Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent, Tornado squadrons were assigned under SACEUR and based in Germany with the intention to attack a major Soviet offensive with both conventional and nuclear weapons, namely the WE.177 nuclear bomb.[23]


The contract for the Batch 1 aircraft was signed on 29 July 1976.[18] The first aircraft were delivered to the RAF and Luftwaffe on 5 and 6 June 1979 respectively.[24] The first Italian Tornado was delivered on 25 September 1981. On 29 January 1981, the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) officially opened at RAF Cottesmore, remaining active in training pilots from all operating nations until 31 March 1999.[25] The 500th Tornado to be produced was delivered to West Germany on 19 December 1987.[26]

Export customers were sought after West Germany withdrew its objections to exporting the aircraft, but Saudi Arabia was the only customer to emerge.[27] The agreement to purchase the Tornado was part of the controversial Al-Yamamah arms deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi government.[28][29] Oman had committed to purchasing Tornados and the equipment to operate them for a total value of £250 million in the late 1980s, but cancelled the order in 1990 due to financial difficulties.[30]

Australia considered the acquisition of the Tornado to replace their Dassault Mirage III aircraft, but the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet was selected instead.[31][32] The Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, expressed an interest in acquiring the Tornado ECR variant.[33]

Production ended in September 1998; the last aircraft, an RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) IDS, was completed by British Aerospace that year. In 2008, Air Forces Monthly labelled the aircraft:[34]

For more than a quarter of a century... the most important military aircraft in Western Europe.



A 27 Sqn RAF Tornado GR1 with its wings fully swept back

The Tornado was designed as a low-level supersonic ground attack bomber that would be land-based and operate from large airfields considered to be vulnerable to aerial attack. To perform its missions, both good high-speed and low-speed flying characteristics of the aircraft were essential. In order to achieve the desired high-speed performance an aircraft would typically feature a highly swept or delta wing platform. However, these wing designs are very inefficient at low speeds; in order for the aircraft to be operated efficiently at both high and low speeds, variable wing sweep was incorporated into the Tornado design.[6] When the wings are swept back, the Tornado IDS increases its high-speed low-level capability by reducing drag. When sweeping, the wings partially slide into the fuselage, reducing the exposed wing area.[6]

During the development of the aircraft, short field landing capability was considered essential in order to enable the aircraft to operate from short strips on potentially damaged runways and taxiways.With the wings swept fully forwards, the Tornado IDS generates greater lift because of the increased exposed wing area and the use of full-span flaps and slats. This gives greater lift at lower speeds, reducing the minimum landing speed required and therefore giving shorter landing distances. Thrust reversers are also fitted to help in this respect, the Saab Viggen being the only other fighter aircraft to include this feature.[35]

A Tornado undergoing maintenance

The cockpit is of conventional design with a centre stick and left hand throttles. Primary fly-by-wire flight controls are an analogue Command and Stability Augmentation System (CSAS)[36], connected to a digital Autopilot & Flight Director System (AFDS). When a pilot wants to fly at low speed, a cockpit selection lever is used to sweep the wings forward, maximising lift. When flying faster the wings are swept further back. In flight the Tornado GR4 uses three sweep angles – 25, 45 and 67 degrees, with a corresponding speed range appropriate for each angle.

The Tornado incorporates a combined navigation/attack radar that simultaneously performs searches, ground-mapping, and terrain-following activities. The Tornado ADV has a different radar system, AI.24 Foxhunter, capable of tracking 20 targets at ranges of up to 100 miles continuously.[35] The Tornado is cleared to carry almost all the air-launched weapons in the NATO inventory, including cluster bombs, anti-runway munitions, and nuclear weapons. Ground attack versions have a limited air-to-air capability with Sidewinder or ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (AAMs); the ADV variant can also launch long range AAMs such as the AMRAAM.


Britain considered the selection of Rolls-Royce to develop the advanced engine for the MRCA to be essential, and was strongly opposed to the use of an engine from an American manufacturer, to the point where the UK might have withdrawn following a different selection.[37] In September 1969 Rolls-Royce's RB 199 engine was selected, an advantage over that of the US competition was a technology transfer to the partner nations had been agreed; the engine was to be developed and produced by a joint company, Turbo-Union.[38] The program was delayed by the entry of Rolls-Royce into receivership in 1971, but the multinational collaboration process was beneficial to avoiding major disruption of the Tornado program.[39]

In the initial introduction to service, the turbine blades of the engine had a short life span, this was rectified by the upgrading of the early engines as newer engine revisions were made.[40] The final production standard engine met both reliability and performance standards, though development costs had been higher than originally predicted, in part due to ambitious performance requirements.[41] An uprated engine was demonstrated, intended for the interceptor variant of the Tornado, but it was not pursued.[42]

Operational history

German Air Force (Luftwaffe)

A Luftwaffe Tornado ASSTA 1

The prototype model made its first flight on 14 August 1974 from Manching airbase in what was then West Germany. The first service delivery was made on 27 July 1979, with deliveries totalling 247 IDS variants, including 35 special ECRs. Originally the Tornados equipped five fighter-bomber wings, replacing the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Two wings were disbanded in 2003 and 2005 and a third was reequipped with the Tornado ECR. When the last Tornado wing of the German Navy was disbanded in 2005, its Tornados formed a new reconnaissance wing in the Luftwaffe.

German Tornados undertook NATO combat operations during the Bosnian War, the first combat operation for the Luftwaffe since World War II. British and Italian IDSs also participated. German ECR Tornados participated in Operation Allied Force in former Yugoslavia and launched 236 AGM-88 HARMs. In 2007, a detachment of 6 Tornados of the Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 "Immelmann" (51st reconnaissance wing) deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan, to support NATO forces.[43]

Beginning in 2000, German IDS, ECR and RECCE (IDS with additional cables to support the RECCE-POD) Tornados received the ASSTA 1 upgrade. The major modification of the ASSTA 1 (Avionics System Software Tornado in Ada) upgrade was the replacement of the weapons computer with a MIL-STD 1553/1760 or Ada MIL-STD 1815 computer. The Tornados also received an internal GPS, a Laser Inertial Navigation System, and the "Tornado Self Protection Jammer" ECM-pod. The new computer supports the HARM III, HARM 0 Block IV/V and Kormoran II missiles, the Rafael Litening II Laser Designator Pod and GBU-24 Paveway III laser-guided bombs.

A German Navy Tornado IDS landing at RAF Mildenhall in 1984 with the Thrust Reverse deployed

The ASSTA 2 upgrade began in 2005 only for the 85 ECR and RECCE Tornados, as the IDS is in the process of being replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. It mainly consists of digital avionics, a new ECM suite and provision for the Taurus cruise missile.

On 13 January 2004, the then German Defence Minister Peter Struck announced major changes to the German armed forces. A major part of this announcement is the plan to cut the German fighter fleet from 426 in early 2004 to 265 by 2015. Assuming the full German order for 180 Eurofighter Typhoons is delivered, this will see the Tornado force reduced to 85.[44]

German Navy (Marineflieger)

In addition to the order made by the Luftwaffe, the German Navy's Marineflieger also received 112 IDS variants. These equipped two wings until 1994, when one was disbanded. The second was disbanded in 2005 with its aircraft and duties passed on to the Luftwaffe.

Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare)

A flight of Italian Tornado IDS

The first Italian prototype made its maiden flight on 5 December 1975 from Turin, Italy. The Aeronautica Militare received 100 Tornado IDS; 15 of these were later converted to the ECR configuration. In addition, for 10 years, the Italian Air force operated 24 Tornado ADVs in the air defence role, which were leased from the Royal Air Force as stop-gap between the retirement of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the introduction of the Eurofighter.[45]

Italian Tornados, along with Tornados from Britain, took part in the first Gulf War in 1991. Operation Locusta saw eight Tornado IDS interdictors deployed from Gioia del Colle, Italy, to Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi, as a part of Italy's contribution to the coalition.[46] During the conflict, one aircraft was lost to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, the pilots ejected and were taken prisoners. They were released after the Coalition's victory[47] A total of 22 Italian Tornados were deployed in the NATO-organised Operation Allied Force over Kosovo in 1999, the IDS variant was used in the bombing role while the ECR variants patrolled the combat region, acting to suppress enemy anti-aircraft radars.[48] Four Italian Tornados participated in the enforcement of a no-fly zone in the 2011 military intervention in Libya.[49]

A Tornado IDS of the Italian Air Force

In July 2002 Italy signed a contract with NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) and the Panavia partner companies for the initial upgrade of 18 IDSs. Alenia Aeronautica is responsible for the upgrade, the first of which was completed in November 2003.[50] It is planned to replace the Tornado IDS/ECR fleet in Italian service with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.[51]

Royal Air Force

The first British prototype made its maiden flight on 30 October 1974. On 11 July 1985, the RAF reconnaissance version (GR1A) made its maiden flight. RAF Tornado GR1s and GR1As were used during the Gulf War, Operation Desert Fox and the Kosovo War.

The Tornado's combat debut came in 1991 in the Gulf War, otherwise known as Operation Granby. Nearly 60 GR1s were deployed by the United Kingdom to air bases at Muharraq (Bahrain), Tabuk and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia.[52] In the early stages of Operation Granby RAF Tornado GR.1s were used to target Iraqi military airfields using 1,000 lb (450 kg) unguided bombs in loft-bombing attacks and the JP233 runway denial weapon.

Six RAF Tornados were lost as a result of the conflict, as was one Italian Tornado. Of the RAF aircraft, four were lost while delivering unguided bombs, one was lost after delivering JP233, and one trying to deliver laser-guided bombs.[53] One further Tornado was lost in a non-combat incident.[54] On 17 January 1991, the first Tornado was shot down by an Iraqi SA-16 missile after a failed bombing run.[55] On 19 January, a second RAF Tornado was shot down by a short range Surface to Air Missile (SAM) or MANPADS during a raid on Tallil Air Base. On 14 February, a third RAF Tornado was downed by radar guided SAMs.[54]

A Tornado GR1 of XV Sqn RAF

It has been claimed that a Tornado (ZA467) crewed by Gary Lennox and Adrian Weeks was shot down on 19 January by an Iraqi MiG-29 piloted by Jameel Sayhood with a R-60MK missile.[56] However, this aircraft is recorded as having crashed on 22 January on a mission to Ar Rutbah.[54][57]

Following the end of the initial phase of the war, the GR1s were switched to medium level strike missions. In an emergency deployment, the UK sent out a detachment of Blackburn Buccaneer aircraft equipped with the Pave Spike laser designator, allowing the GR.1s to drop precision guided weapons. A further crash programme was initiated which saw some GR.1s fitted with the TIALD system.[58] In the aftermath of the war, British forces remained in the Gulf, with GR1s being based at Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait for operations over the southern no fly zone as part of Operation Southern Watch.

RAF Tornado GR4 taxis to the runway at RIAT 2010

As early as May 1984 the UK Ministry of Defence began studies for the first Tornado upgrade project. In March 1993 a new Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) project was launched. On 29 May, the first GR4 development aircraft made its maiden flight. On 29 July 1994 the UK signed a contract for MLU of GR1/GR1A/GR1Bs to GR4/GR4A standard. The first flight of an upgraded GR4 was on 4 April 1997, with the first delivery to the RAF on 31 October. The GR4 entered front line service on 28 April 1998. The Tornado GR4 made its operational debut in patrols during Operation Southern Watch. The aircraft flew from Ali Al Salem in Kuwait, and patrolled a large part of southern Iraq. GR1s and GR4s at Ali Al Salem later took part in Operation Desert Fox in 1998.

1999 saw further action for the GR1 in the Kosovo War. Aircraft operated from RAF Bruggen in Germany during the first part of the war, flying precision strike missions. They later moved to a base on Corsica shortly before the war ended to bring them closer to the combat zone. Following the Kosovo War, the GR1 was phased out as more and more aircraft were upgraded to the GR4 standard. The final GR1 was upgraded in 2003 and returned to the RAF on 10 June.[59]

The GR4 version's full wartime debut came in Operation Telic, the British part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The campaign in Iraq marked a number of firsts for the aircraft. No. 617 Squadron used the Storm Shadow Missile for the first time, and enhanced Paveway smart bombs were used to attack runways. On 23 March 2003, a Tornado GR4 was lost to friendly fire when it was engaged and shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile battery, killing both crew members.[60][61]

In early 2009, Tornado GR4s replaced the detachment of Harrier GR7/9 ground-attack aircraft that was based at Afghanistan’s Kandahar airfield since November 2004.[62]

Prior to publication of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), retiring the entire RAF Tornado fleet was considered as a cost saving measure, with an anticipated saving of £7.5 billion.[63] However, the SDSR concluded that the more capable Tornado should be spared at the expense of the Harrier fleet. The SDSR does, however, call for a reduction in the Tornado fleet as the RAF transitions to a Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Lightning II "fast jet" fleet.[64]

On 18 March 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK was deploying RAF Tornados, alongside Typhoons, to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya.[65] On 20 March 2011 British Tornados flew 3000-mile missions to carry out attacks on Libyan military sites using Storm Shadow missiles in what were "the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict" according to Defence Secretary Liam Fox.[66] Operations over Libya continued using a variety of weapons including Laser-guided bombs, (deployed in conjunction with the LITENING targeting pod), and Brimstone missiles.[citation needed]

Royal Saudi Air Force

Saudi Arabian Tornado ADV variant

On 25 September 1985, UK and Saudi Arabia signed the Al Yamamah I contract including, amongst other things, the sale of 48 IDS and 24 ADV model Tornados.[67] The first flight of a RSAF Tornado IDS was on 26 March 1986, and the first Saudi ADV was delivered on 9 February 1989. Saudi Tornados undertook operations during the Gulf War. In June 1993 the Al Yamamah II contract was signed, the main element of which was 48 additional IDSs.[68]

In September 2006 the Saudi government signed a contract worth £2.5 billion (US$4.7 billion) with BAE Systems to upgrade possibly 80 aircraft in the Saudi Air Force fleet which it wants to keep until 2020. RSAF Tornado 6612 returned to BAE Systems Warton in December 2006 for upgrade under the "Tornado Sustainment Programme" (TSP), which will "equip the IDS fleet with a range of new precision-guided weapons and enhanced targeting equipment, in many cases common with those systems already fielded by the UK's Tornado GR4s."[69] In December 2007, the aircraft, "believed to be the first RSAF aircraft to complete modernisation", was returned to Saudi Arabia.[70]

Starting from the first week of November 2009, Saudi Air Force Tornados, along with Saudi F-15s performed air raids over Yemeni Houthis terrorists in Yemeni Norther region of Sa'dah. It was the first time since Operation Desert Storm in 1991 that Saudi Air Force partook actively in a military operation over hostile territory.[71]


Operators of the Panavia Tornado

Tornado IDS

Tornado GR1

RAF IDS variants were initially designated the Tornado GR1 with later modified aircraft designated Tornado GR1A, Tornado GR1B, Tornado GR4 and Tornado GR4A. The RAF Tornado GR1 was the first generation version of the Panavia Tornado strike aircraft of the RAF. The first of 228 GR1s was delivered on 5 June 1979, and the type entered service in the early 1980s. A total of 142 aircraft were upgraded to GR4 standard from 1997 to 2002.

The Tornado was designed for low-level penetration strikes on Warsaw Pact targets in Europe using both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons, e.g. WE.177. A major feature of the GR.1 was its terrain-following radar, which allowed all-weather hands-off low-level flight. The RAF Tornado IDS aircraft are fitted with a Laser Range Finder and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS). This consists of a laser that is used to measure the slant range of a point on the ground relative to the aircraft; this information is used to calculate targeting. The LRMTS sensor can be used to receive reflected laser energy from a third-party laser, allowing the crew to find targets marked by troops on the ground or other aircraft. IDS aircraft supplied to Italy and West Germany do not have the LRMTS system, but are on the aircraft operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Tornado GR1B

The Tornado GR1B was a specialised anti-shipping variant of the RAF Tornado GR1. Based in Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth, they replaced the Blackburn Buccaneer in the anti-shipping role, delivering the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile. It did not have the ability to track shipping with its radar and relied on the missile's seeker for target acquisition. When the Tornado GR1 strike aircraft of the RAF were updated to the GR4 standard in the late 1990s there was no corresponding GR4B version of the GR4. It was judged that a specialised anti-shipping variant of the aircraft was no longer required due to the reduced threat from surface warships, additionally the Sea Eagle missile was close to the end of its shelf-life with no plans to replace it due to cost.

Tornado GR4

German Luftwaffe Tornado ECR.
RAF Tornado GR4 (ZA597) at a British air display, with wings partially swept

In 1984 the UK Ministry of Defence began studies of a Mid-Life Update (MLU) of the aircraft to rectify shortcomings of the GR1. This update, to Tornado GR4 standard would improve capability in the medium level role while maintaining the Tornado's exceptional low-level penetration capability. The GR4 upgrade was approved in 1994, after it had been revised to include lessons learned from the GR1's performance in the 1991 Gulf War. The contracts were signed with British Aerospace (later BAE Systems) in 1994 for the upgrade of 142 GR1s to GR4 standard, work began in 1996 and was finished in 2003.

Upgrades included FLIR (Forward-Looking InfraRed) capability, a wide-angle HUD (Heads-Up Display), improved cockpit displays, NVG (Night Vision Goggles) capabilities, new avionics and weapons systems, and a Global Positioning System receiver. The updated weapons system enabled the integration of weapons such as the Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles, and reconnaissance equipment such as the RAPTOR pod. The GR4 fleet is been fitted with a 12.8-inch Multi-function display in the rear cockpit, the BAE Systems Tornado Advanced Radar Display Information System (TARDIS), which has replaced the Combined Radar and Projected Map Display (CRPMD).[72]

Tornado GR1A/GR4A

The GR1A was a reconnaissance variant of the RAF IDS. It is also in service with the Saudi Air Force. With the upgrade of the GR1 to GR4 standard, similarly the GR1A became the GR4A. The GR1A and GR4A are equipped with the internally mounted TIRRS (Tornado Infra-Red Reconnaissance System), consisting of one SLIR (Sideways Looking Infra Red) on each side of the fuselage just forward of the engine intakes to capture oblique images, and a single IRLS (Infra-Red LineScan) reconnaissance sensor mounted on the underside of the fuselage providing vertical imaging. The sensor package replaces the 27 mm cannon. Unlike many reconnaissance packages of the era which stored their images on film, the TIRRS system uses six S-VHS video tapes to store information.[73]

The RAF ordered 30 GR1As, with 14 as rebuilds of GR1s and the remaining 16 as new-build airframes,[74] and 25 aircraft were upgraded to GR4A standard. The GR4A retains almost all of the offensive capabilities of the GR4. As RAPTOR becomes the principal reconnaissance sensor of Tornado in RAF service, TIRRS will be phased out. To this end, the RAF's Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at RAF Marham which comprises II Squadron and 13 Squadron now fly both GR4A and GR4 variants, since the sensors specific to the GR4A are no longer essential to the reconnaissance role.

Tornado ECR

Luftwaffe Tornado ECR

Operated by Germany and Italy, the ECR is a Tornado variant devoted to Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) missions. It was first delivered on 21 May 1990. The ECR is equipped with an emitter-locator system (ELS) which is designed to locate enemy radar sites and armed with the AGM-88 HARM. The Luftwaffe's 35 ECRs were delivered new, while Italy received 16 converted IDSs. German ECRs were equipped with a Honeywell infra-red imaging systems for reconnaissance, this was later removed as it was considered impractical for one aircraft to be tasked with both SEAD and reconnaissance. The German ECR Tornados do not carry a cannon.[75]

Italian ECRs (IT-ECR) differ from the Luftwaffe aircraft in never having been equipped with a reconnaissance capability and being IDS conversion are equipped with RB199 Mk.103 engines. Luftwaffe ECRs are equipped with RB199 Mk.105 which have a slightly higher thrust rating. The first IT-ECR was delivered on 27 February 1998, and formally accepted on 7 April.[76]

Tornado ADV

The Tornado ADV is a interceptor variant of the Tornado, developed for the RAF (known in service as the Tornado F2 or F3) and also operated by Saudi Arabia and Italy. At the start of the MRCA development project in 1968, the United Kingdom had intentions for the Tornado to be developed with the interceptor role in mind.[77]

In the development of the Tornado, the suitability for the air combat role was doubted as the aircraft had inferior agility and manoeuvrability compared with fighters such as the McDonnell Douglas F-15.[78] However, it was not intended to function as a dog-fighter but as a long-endurance combat air patrol fighter to counter the Cold War threat posed by Soviet bombers.[77] Compared with the Tornado IDS, the ADV has 80% parts commonality,[77] but faster supersonic acceleration, a stretched body for the AA missile carriage, and more fuel capacity; it only has one cannon compared with the two of the IDS (to accommodate a retractable inflight refuelling probe), and included the Foxhunter Air Intercept Radar with a new software suite.[79]


Unit Base Version Status Notes
Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana)
102° Gruppo, 6° Stormo Ghedi IDS Active 1993–
154° Gruppo, 6° Stormo Ghedi IDS Active 1982–
156° Gruppo, 6° Stormo Ghedi IDS Active 1984–
12° Gruppo, 36° Stormo Gioia del Colle IDS/ADV F.3 Inactive 1984/1995-2004, replaced by Eurofighter Typhoon
155° Gruppo E.T.S., 50° Stormo Piacenza IDS/ECR Active 1990/1998–
German Navy (Deutsche Marine)
Marinefliegergeschwader 1 Jagel Disbanded 1982–1993
Marinefliegergeschwader 2 Eggebek Disbanded 1986–2005
Jagdbombergeschwader 31 "Boelcke" Nörvenich IDS Active 34 aircraft, transitioned to Eurofighter in 2009[80]
Jagdbombergeschwader 32 Lagerlechfeld ECR Active 34 aircraft, Receives ASSTA 2 Upgrade, remains in service
Jagdbombergeschwader 33 Büchel IDS Active 36 aircraft, will transition to Eurofighter in 2013/14
Jagdbombergeschwader 34 "Allgäu" Memmingen Disbanded Disbanded 2003
Jagdbombergeschwader 38 "Friesland" Jever Disbanded Disbanded 2005
Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 "Immelmann" Jagel/Schleswig RECCE Active 46 aircraft, Receives ASSTA 2 Upgrade, remains in service
Royal Air Force
No. 2 Squadron Marham GR4/4A Active[81] 12 aircraft
No. 5 Squadron Coningsby F3 Disbanded 1987–2003
No. 9 Squadron Marham GR4/4A Active 12 aircraft
No. 11 Squadron Leeming F3 Disbanded 1988–2005
No. 12 Squadron Lossiemouth GR4/4A Active 12 aircraft
No. 13 Squadron Marham GR4/4A Disbanded, 13 May 2011 12 aircraft
No. 14 Squadron Lossiemouth GR4/4A Disbanded 12 aircraft
No. XV (Reserve) Squadron Lossiemouth GR4 Reserve 26 aircraft. GR4 Operational Conversion Unit
No. 16 Squadron Laarbruch GR1 Disbanded 1983–1991
No. 17 Squadron Brüggen GR1 Disbanded 1985–1999
No. 20 Squadron Laarbruch GR1 Disbanded 1984–1992
No. 23 Squadron Leeming F3 Disbanded 1988–1994
No. 25 Squadron Leeming F3 Disbanded 1989–2008
No. 27 Squadron Marham GR1 Disbanded 1983–1993
No. 29 Squadron Coningsby F3 Disbanded 1987–1998
No. 31 Squadron Marham GR4/4A Active 10 aircraft
No. 43 Squadron Leuchars F3 Disbanded 1989–2009
No. 56 (Reserve) Squadron Leuchars F3 Disbanded 1992–2008
No. 111 Squadron Leuchars F3 Disbanded 1990–2011
No. 617 Squadron Lossiemouth GR4/4A Active 12 aircraft
No. 229 OCU
(No 65 (Reserve) Squadron)
Coningsby F2/3 Renumbered 56(R) Sqn 1984–1992 F.2/3 Operational Conversion Unit
No. 1435 Flight Mount Pleasant F3 Replaced by Typhoon F2 4 aircraft, based in the Falklands
Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment Cottesmore IDS, GR1 Disbanded
Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit
(No. 45 Squadron)
Honington GR1 Renumbered XV(R) Sqn 1981–1992
Royal Saudi Air Force
KAAB IDS Active 96 IDS
No. 7 Squadron RSAF IDS
No. 29 Squadron RSAF ADV
No. 34 Squadron RSAF ADV
No. 66 Squadron RSAF IDS
No. 75 Squadron RSAF IDS
No. 83 Squadron RSAF IDS

Aircraft on display

Gate guard Tornado on display in Jagel, Germany

Although still an operational aircraft, a number of older aircraft are on public display:

  • Tornado IDS on display at the National Museum of Military History, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  • XX946 Tornado Prototype P02 on display at the RAF Museum Cosford, England.
  • XX947 Tornado Prototype P03 on display at Shoreham Airport, England.
  • XX948 Tornado Prototype on display at Hermeskeil, Germany
  • XZ631 Tornado GR1 on display at Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, England.
  • ZA319 Tornado GR1T Gate Guard, MoD DSDA, Bicester, England.
  • ZA354 Tornado GR1 on display at Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, England.
  • ZA362 Tornado GR1 on display at Highland Aviation Museum, Inverness, Scotland.
  • ZA374 Tornado GR1 on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson, Ohio, USA
  • ZA457 Tornado GR1 on display at RAF Museum, Hendon, England.
  • ZA465 Tornado GR1 on display at Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England.
  • ZE934 Tornado F3 on display at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland
  • MM7210 Tornado F3 on display at the Italian Air Force Museum, Vigna di Valle, Italy
  • 43+74 Tornado IDS of the German Navy, Marinefliegergeschwader 1 at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, AZ
  • 43+96 Tornado gate guard at the German air base in Jagel, near Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
  • 44+97 Tornado IDS of the Einsatzgeschwader (Expeditionary Air Wing) Mazar-i-Sharif at the Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim, Oberschleißheim, Germany
  • 44+31 Tornado IDS (Blue Lightning paint scheme) of the 31st Fighter Bomber Wing "Boelcke" at Norvenich AB, Germany
  • Tornado IDS on display at the Luftwaffenmuseum, Berlin, Germany
  • Tornado IDS on display at the Technikmuseum Speyer, Germany
  • Tornado ADV F3 on display at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Tornado IDS on display the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Specifications (Tornado GR4)

Tornado IDS graphic.gif

Data from International Warbirds: An Illustrated Guide to World Military Aircraft, 1914–2000,[35] Tornado, Modern Fighting Aircraft[82]

General characteristics




See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


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