The program to update many of the RAF Tornado's weapons and navigation systems was completed in 2003 and these updated aircraft are known as Tornado GR4s.The RAF Tornado GR4 is the current version of the RAF's primary attack aircraft until it is replaced by the new RAF Typhoon Eurofighter. The Tornado GR4 is capable of supersonic speeds and flight at low-level. The aircraft is one of the most potent in the world. Eventually the Tornado will be replaced with the F-35 Lightning II and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Panavia Tornado was developed by the United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy in a tri-national consortium. The Tornado first flew on 14 August 1974. First deliveries to the RAF of the original GR1 version were made in 1980 where it replaced a number of older RAF aircraft including the Blackburn Buccaneer and Avro Vulcan as low-level ground attack bomber. It was also used to replace the US built F-104 Starfighter used in other airforces. Nine hundred and ninety two Tornado aircraft were built for Britainís RAF, West Germany's Luftwaffe, Italy's Aeronautica Militare and Saudi Arabia's Royal Air Force.
The Panavia Tornado has a crew of two and has a maximum speed of around Mach 2.34 which is 1,511 mph - 2,417km/h (25 miles a minute - London to Newcastle in just over 11 minutes). It has a range of 870 miles (1,390km/h)but with four external drop tanks this can be increased to 2,417 miles (3890 km). The American equivalent aircraft would be the F-15E Strike Eagle, the older F-14 Tomcat and F-11 Aardvark. They were to be pitted up against the Soviet Mikoyan MiG-27 and Sukhoi Su-24.
The Tornado was designed in the Cold War era and the main enemy was the Soviet block. It was envisage that in any future world war Airfields would be under attack and could be put out of action so new fighter bombers would have to have short take off capability so they could use motorways as temporary runways. Although it could carry a Nuclear payload into the heart of Russia this role was given to the Trident submarine fleet as the development of anti aircraft missile systems reduced the chances of the Tornado getting through to its target. Any nuclear attack would have been a one way mission. An intercontinental missile would have been much more effective. It was envisaged that the Tornado would be used to try and stop advancing Russian Tanks and intercept Soviet Bombers and fighters. Luckily it was never used in this role.
A major feature is the Tornado's 'swing wings' (or 'variable geometry' to give it its correct title). With the wings swept fully forward, the aircraft can fly very slowly - ideal for landing on short, unprepared runways in a battle zone. The RAF Tornado GR4 is also able to use thrust-reverse to shorten landings. With the wings swept to their full 68 degrees, the aircraft can fly supersonically, whilst at the intermediate position the manoeuvrability is greatly increased. Ideal for dog fighting and undertaking rapid action during an attack.
The Tornado has seen action in both Gulf wars, Kosovo, Afghanistan and is used as the main deterrent in the Falkland Islands against any future hostilities from Argentina. It could carry almost all the air-launched rockets and bombs in the NATO inventory, including cluster bombs, anti-runway munitions, the HARM III, HARM 0 Block IV/V and Kormoran II missiles, the Rafael Lightning II Laser Designator Pod, GBU-24 Paveway III laser-guided bombs and the Taurus cruise missile. The Ground attack variant had limited air-to-air capability but could launch Sidewinder or ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (AAMs). The Air Defence Varient interceptor fighter (ADV) Tornado carried long range air-to-air missiles AAMs such as the AMRAAM. In 2000 Tornados were fitted with a "Tornado Self Protection Jammer" ECM-pod. The latest Tornados are equipped with forward Looking Infra-Red Radar and is compatible with Night-Vision Goggles, making it a highly capable platform for night operations.
The Tornado's ground hugging radar enables it to fly in low and deliver its precision weapons. It has two small pods under the forward fuselage house the laser-guiding and infra-red night vision systems. A mid like upgrade was under taken to improve the avionics and weapon handling of all Tornado GR1/GR1A/GR1B (anti-shipping variant) to GR4/GR4A standard. The last up grade was completed in June 2003. The best way to differentiate between the RAF Tornado GR4 and the older RAF Tornado F3 (fighter) versions are the shape of the nose: the F3's is longer and sleeker where as the GR4 is much blunter and less streamlined. For self defense and offence the Tornado has an integral 27mm Mauser cannon capable of firing 1700 rounds per minute when it has run out of missiles.
West Germany's Luftwaffe and Italy's Aeronautica Militare operate a Tornado ECR variant designed for Suppression of Enemy Air Defense missions (SEAD). It will hunt out enemy radar sites and armed with the AGM-88 HARM weapon, destroy them.
Tornado GR4 books