Panavia Tornado

Panavia Tornado

The Panavia Tornado is a family of twin-engine, variable-sweep wing multirole combat aircraft, jointly developed and manufactured by Italy, the United Kingdom and West Germany. There are three primary Tornado variants: 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 aircraft.

The Tornado was 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. It first flew on 14 August 1974 and was introduced into service in 1979–1980. Due to its multirole design, it was able to replace several different fleets of aircraft in the adopting air forces. The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) became the only export operator of the Tornado in addition to the three original partner nations. A tri-nation training and evaluation unit operating from RAF Cottesmore, the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, maintained a level of international co-operation beyond the production stage.

The Tornado was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Italian Air Force, and RSAF during the Gulf War of 1991, in which the Tornado conducted many low-altitude penetrating strike missions. The Tornados of various services were also used in The Bosnian War, Kosovo War, Iraq War, in Libya during the 2011 Libyan civil war, as well as smaller roles in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. Including all variants, 990 aircraft were built.



The Panavia Tornado is a multirole, twin-engined aircraft designed to excel at low-level penetration of enemy defences. The mission envisaged during the Cold War was the delivery of conventional and nuclear ordnance on the invading forces of the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe; this dictated several significant features of the design. Variable wing geometry allowed for minimal drag during the low-level dash towards a well-prepared enemy. Advanced navigation and flight computers, including the then-innovative fly-by-wire system, greatly reduced the workload of the pilot during low-level flight and eased control of the aircraft. For long range missions, the Tornado has a retractable refuelling probe.

As a multirole aircraft, the Tornado is capable of undertaking more mission profiles than the anticipated strike mission; various operators replaced multiple aircraft types with the Tornado as a common type – the use of dedicated single role aircraft for specialist purposes such as battlefield reconnaissance, maritime patrol duties, or dedicated electronic countermeasures (ECM) were phased out – either by standard Tornados or modified variants, such as the Tornado ECR. The most extensive modification from the base Tornado design was the Tornado ADV, which was stretched and armed with long range anti-aircraft missiles to serve in the interceptor role.

Tornado operators have undertaken various life extension and upgrade programmes to keep their Tornado fleets as viable frontline aircraft. With these upgrades it is projected that the Tornado shall be in service until 2025, more than 50 years after the first prototype took flight.

Variable-sweep wing

In order for the Tornado to perform well as a low-level supersonic strike aircraft, it was considered necessary for it to possess good high-speed and low-speed flight characteristics. To achieve high-speed performance, a swept or delta wing is typically adopted, but these wing designs are inefficient at low speeds. To operate at both high and low speeds with great effectiveness, the Tornado uses a variable-sweep wing. This approach had been adopted by earlier aircraft, such as the American General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark strike fighter, and the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 fighter. The smaller Tornado has many similarities with the F-111, however the Tornado differs in being a multi-role aircraft with more advanced onboard systems and avionics.

The level of wing sweep (i.e. the angle of the wings in relation to the fuselage) can be altered in flight at the pilot’s control. The variable wing can adopt any sweep angle between 25 degrees and 67 degrees, with a corresponding speed range for each angle. Some Tornado ADVs were outfitted with an automatic wing-sweep system to reduce pilot workload. When the wings are swept back, the exposed wing area is lowered and drag is significantly decreased, which is conducive to performing high-speed low-level flight. The weapons pylons pivot with the angle of the variable-sweep wings so that the stores point in the direction of flight and do not hinder any wing positions.

In development, significant attention was given to the Tornado’s short-field take-off and landing (STOL) performance. Germany, in particular, encouraged this design aspect. For shorter take-off and landing distances, the Tornado can sweep its wings forwards to the 25-degree position, and deploy its full-span flaps and leading edge slats to allow the aircraft to fly at slower speeds. These features, in combination with the thrust reverser-equipped engines, give the Tornado excellent low-speed handling and landing characteristics.


The Tornado features a tandem-seat cockpit, crewed by a pilot and a navigator/weapons officer; both electromechanical and electro-optical controls are used to fly the aircraft and manage its systems. An array of dials and switches are mounted on either side of a centrally placed CRT monitor, controlling the navigational, communications, and weapons-control computers. BAE Systems developed the Tornado Advanced Radar Display Information System (TARDIS), a 32.5-centimetre (12.8 in) multi-function display, to replace the rear cockpit’s Combined Radar and Projected Map Display; the RAF began installing TARDIS on the GR4 fleet in 2004.

The primary flight controls of the Tornado are a fly-by-wire hybrid, consisting of an analogue quadruplex Command and Stability Augmentation System (CSAS) connected to a digital Autopilot & Flight Director System (AFDS). In addition a level of mechanical reversion capacity was retained to safeguard against potential failure. To enhance pilot awareness, artificial feel was built into the flight controls, such as the centrally located stick. Because the Tornado’s variable wings enable the aircraft to drastically alter its flight envelope, the artificial responses adjust automatically to wing profile changes and other changes to flight attitude. As a large variety of munitions and stores can be outfitted, the resulting changes to the aircraft’s flight dynamics are routinely compensated for by the flight stability system.

The Tornado incorporates a combined navigation/attack Doppler radar that simultaneously scans for targets and conducts fully automated terrain-following for low-level flight operations. Being able to conduct all-weather hands-off low-level flight was considered one of the core advantages of the Tornado. The Tornado ADV had a different radar system to other variants, designated AI.24 Foxhunter, as it is designed for air defence operations. It was capable of tracking up to 20 targets at ranges of up to 160 kilometres (100 mi). The Tornado was one of the earliest aircraft to be fitted with a digital data bus for data transmission. A Link 16 JTIDS integration on the F3 variant enabled the exchange of radar and other sensory information with nearby friendly aircraft.

Some Tornado variants carry different avionics and equipment, depending on their mission. The Tornado ECR operated by Germany and Italy is devoted to Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) missions. The Tornado ECR is equipped with an emitter-locator system (ELS) to detect radar use. German ECRs have a Honeywell infrared imaging system for reconnaissance flights. RAF and RSAF Tornados have the Laser Range Finder and Marked Target Seekers (LRMTS) for targeting laser-guided munitions. In 1991, the RAF introduced TIALD, allowing Tornado GR1s to laser-designate their own targets.

The GR1A and GR4A reconnaissance variants were equipped with TIRRS (Tornado Infrared Reconnaissance System), consisting of one SLIR (Sideways Looking Infra Red) sensor on each side of the fuselage forward of the engine intakes to capture oblique images, and a single IRLS (InfrarRed LineScan) sensor mounted on the fuselage’s underside to provide vertical images. TIRRS recorded images on six S-VHS video tapes. The newer RAPTOR reconnaissance pod replaced the built-in TIRRS system.

Armament and equipment

The Tornado is cleared to carry the majority of air-launched weapons in the NATO inventory, including various unguided and laser-guided bombs, anti-ship and anti-radiation missiles, as well as specialised weapons such as anti-personnel mines and anti-runway munitions. To improve survivability in combat, the Tornado is equipped with onboard countermeasures, ranging from flare and chaff dispensers to electronic countermeasure pods that can be mounted under the wings. Underwing fuel tanks and a buddy store aerial refuelling system that allows one Tornado to refuel another are available to extend the aircraft’s range.

In the decades since the Tornado’s introduction, all of the Tornado operators have undertaken various upgrade and modification programmes to allow new weapons to be used by their squadrons. Amongst the armaments that the Tornado has been adapted to deploy are the Enhanced Paveway and Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs, and modern cruise missiles such as the Taurus and Storm Shadow missiles. These upgrades have increased the Tornado’s capabilities and combat accuracy.[85][89][90] Precision weapons such as cruise missiles have replaced older munitions such as cluster bombs.

Strike variants have a limited air-to-air capability with AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (AAMs). The Tornado ADV was outfitted with beyond visual range AAMs such as the Skyflash and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. The Tornado is armed with two 27 mm (1.063 in) Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon internally mounted underneath the fuselage; the Tornado ADV was only armed with one cannon. When the RAF GR1 aircraft were converted to GR4, the FLIR sensor replaced the left hand cannon, leaving only one; the GR1A reconnaissance variant gave up both its guns to make space for the sideways looking infra-red sensors. The Mauser BK-27 was developed specifically for the Tornado, but has since been used on several other European fighters, such as the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, and Eurofighter Typhoon.

The Tornado is capable of delivering air-launched nuclear weapons. In 1979, Britain considered replacing its Polaris submarines with either the Trident submarines or the Tornado as the main bearer of its nuclear deterrent. Although the UK proceeded with Trident, several Tornado squadrons based in Germany were assigned to SACEUR to deter a major Soviet offensive with both conventional and nuclear weapons, namely the WE.177 nuclear bomb, which was retired in 1998. German and Italian Tornados are capable of delivering US B61 nuclear bombs, which are made available through NATO.


Britain considered the selection of Rolls-Royce to develop the advanced engine for the MRCA to be essential, and was strongly opposed to adopting an engine from an American manufacturer, to the point where the UK might have withdrawn over the issue. In September 1969, Rolls-Royce’s RB199 engine was selected to power the MRCA. One advantage over the US competition was that a technology transfer between the partner nations had been agreed; the engine was to be developed and manufactured by a joint company, Turbo-Union. The programme was delayed by Rolls-Royce’s entry into receivership in 1971. however the nature of the multinational collaboration process helped avoid major disruption of the Tornado programme. Research from the supersonic airliner Concorde contributed to the development and final design of the RB199 and of the engine control units.

To operate efficiently across a wide range of conditions and speeds up to Mach 2, the RB199 and several other engines make use of variable intake ramps to control the air flow. The hydraulic system is pressurised by syphoning power from both or either operational engine; the hydraulics are completely contained within the airframe rather than integrating with the engine to improve safety and maintainability. In case of double-engine, or double-generator, failure, the Tornado has a single-use battery capable of operating the fuel pump and hydraulics for up to 13 minutes.

Relatively rarely among fighter aircraft, the RB199 is fitted with thrust reversers to decrease the distance required to safely land. To fully deploy the thrust reverser during landings, the yaw damper is connected to the steering of the nosewheel to provide greater stability.

In August 1974, the first RB199 powered flight of a prototype Tornado occurred and the engine completed its qualification tests in late 1978. The final production standard engine met both reliability and performance standards, though the development cost had been higher than predicted, in part due to the ambitious performance requirements. At the time of the Tornado’s introduction to service, the turbine blades of the engine suffered from a shorter life span than desired, which was rectified by the implementation of design revisions upon early-production engines. Several uprated engines were developed and used on both the majority of Tornado ADVs and Germany’s Tornado ECRs. The DECU (Digital Engine Control Unit) is the current engine control unit for RB199 engines superseding the analogue MECU (Main Engine Control Unit) also known as CUE.


Being designed for low-level operations, the Tornado required modification to perform in medium level operations that the RAF adopted in the 1990s. The RAF’s GR1 fleet was extensively re-manufactured as Tornado GR4s. Upgrades on Tornado GR4s included a Forward looking infrared, a wide-angle HUD (Head-up display), improved cockpit displays, NVG (Night vision devices) capabilities, new avionics, and a Global Positioning System receiver. The upgrade eased the integration of new weapons and sensors which were purchased in parallel, including the Storm Shadow cruise missile, the Brimstone anti-tank missile, Paveway III laser-guided bombs and the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod. The first flight of a Tornado GR4 was on 4 April 1997. The RAF accepted its first delivery on 31 October 1997 and deliveries were completed in 2003. In 2005, the RSAF opted to have their Tornado IDSs undergo a series of upgrades to become equivalent to the RAF’s GR4 configuration. On 21 December 2007 BAE signed a £210m contract for CUSP, the Capability Upgrade Strategy (Pilot). This project would see RAF GR4/4A improved in two phases, starting with the integration of the Paveway IV bomb and a communications upgrade, followed by a new tactical datalink in Phase B.

Beginning in 2000, German IDS and ECR Tornados received the ASSTA 1 (Avionics System Software Tornado in Ada) upgrade. ASSTA 1 involved a replacement weapons computer, new GPS and Laser Inertial navigation systems. The new computer allowed the integration of the HARM III, HARM 0 Block IV/V and Taurus KEPD 350 missiles, the Rafael Litening II laser designator pod and GBU-24 Paveway III laser-guided bombs. The ASSTA 2 upgrade began in 2005, primarily consisting of several new digital avionics systems and a new ECM suite; these upgrades are to be only applied to 85 Tornados (20 ECRs and 65 IDSs), as the Tornado is being replaced in part by the Eurofighter Typhoon. The ASSTA 3 upgrade programme, started in 2008, will introduce support for the laser-targeted Joint Direct Attack Munition along with further software changes.

In January 2016, the Bild newspaper revealed that the newest upgrade of the ASSTA suite to version 3.1, which includes colour multifunctional LCD screens in place of monochrome CRT displays, is interfering with helmet-mounted night-vision optical displays worn by pilots, rendering German Tornado bombers deployed to Syria useless for night missions. The defence ministry admitted that bright cockpit lights could be a distraction for pilots, and disclosed that the solution will be implemented in a few weeks, but denied the need to fly night missions in Syria.

BAE Systems announced that, in December 2013, it had test flown a Tornado equipped with parts that were made with 3D printing equipment. The parts included a protective cover for the radio, a landing-gear guard and air-intake door support struts. The test demonstrated the feasibility of making replacement parts quickly and cheaply at the air base hosting the Tornado. The company claimed that, with some of the parts costing less than £100 per piece to manufacture, 3D printing already resulted in savings of more than £300,000 and would offer further potential cost savings of more than £1.2 million through 2017.


Tornado IDS

  • Tornado GR1: RAF IDS (interdictor/strike) variants were initially designated the Tornado GR1 with later modified aircraft designated Tornado GR1A, Tornado GR1B, Tornado GR4 and Tornado GR4A. The first of 228 GR1s was delivered on 5 June 1979, and the type entered service in the early 1980s.
  • Tornado GR1B: The Tornado GR1B was a specialised anti-shipping variant of the GR1, replacing the Blackburn Buccaneer. 26 aircraft were converted and were based at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland. Each aircraft was equipped to carry up to four Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles. At first the GR1B lacked the radar capability to track shipping, instead relying on the missile’s seeker for target acquisition, later updates allowed target data to be fed from aircraft to missile.
  • Tornado GR4: The UK Ministry of Defence began studies for a GR1 Mid-Life Update (MLU) in 1984. The update to GR4 standard, approved in 1994, would improve capability in the medium-altitude role based on lessons learned from the GR1’s performance in the 1991 Gulf War. British Aerospace (later BAE Systems) upgraded 142 Tornado GR1s to GR4 standard, beginning in 1996 and finished in 2003. 59 RAF aircraft later received the CUSP avionics package which integrated the Paveway IV bomb and installed a new secure communications module from Cassidian in Phase A, followed by the Tactical Information Exchange (TIE) datalink from General Dynamics in Phase B.
  • Tornado GR1A/GR4A: The GR1A is the reconnaissance variant operated by the RAF and RSAF, fitted with the TIRRS (Tornado Infra-Red Reconnaissance System), replacing the cannon. The RAF ordered 30 GR1As, 14 as GR1 rebuilds and 16 as new-builds. When the Tornado GR1s were upgraded to become GR4s, GR1A aircraft were upgraded to GR4A standard. The switch from low-level operations to medium/high-level operations means that the internal TIRRS was no longer used. As the GR4A’s internal sensors are no longer essential, the RAF’s Tactical Reconnaissance Wing operate both GR4A and GR4 aircraft.


Tornado ECR

Operated by Germany and Italy, the ECR (Electronic Combat / Reconnaissance) is a Tornado variant devoted to Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) missions. It was first delivered on 21 May 1990. The ECR has sensors to detect radar usage and is equipped with anti-radiation AGM-88 HARM missiles. The Luftwaffe’s 35 ECRs were delivered new, while Italy received 16 converted IDSs. Italian Tornado ECRs differ from the Luftwaffe aircraft as they lack built-in reconnaissance capability and use RecceLite reconnaissance pods. Further, only Luftwaffe ECRs are equipped with RB199 Mk.105 engine, which has a higher thrust rating. The German ECRs do not carry a cannon. The RAF used the IDS version in the SEAD role instead of the ECR and also modified several of its Tornado F.3s to undertake the mission.

Tornado ADV

The Tornado ADV (air defence variant) was an interceptor variant of the Tornado, developed for the RAF (designated Tornado F2 or F3) and also operated by Saudi Arabia and Italy. The ADV had inferior agility to fighters like the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, but it was not intended as a dogfighter, but rather it was a long-endurance interceptor to counter the threat from Cold War bombers. Although the ADV had 80% parts commonality with the Tornado IDS, the ADV had greater acceleration, improved RB199 Mk.104 engines, a stretched body, greater fuel capacity, the AI.24 Foxhunter radar, and software changes. It had only one cannon to accommodate a retractable inflight refuelling probe.


Crew 2
Length 16.72 m (54 ft 10 in)
Wingspan 13.91 m (45 ft 8 in) at 25° sweep
8.60 m (28 ft 3 in) swept at 67° sweep
Height 5.95 m (19 ft 6 in)
Wing area 26.6 m2 (286 sq ft)
Empty weight 13,890 kg (30,622 lb)
Gross weight 20,240 kg (44,622 lb)
Max take off weight  
Power plant 2 × Turbo-Union RB199-34R Mk 103 afterburning 3-spool turbofan, 43.8 kN (9,800 lbf) thrust each dry, 76.8 kN (17,300 lbf) with afterburner
Maximum speed (Sea level) 1,482 km/h (921 mph; 800 kn) IAS near sea level
Maximum speed (High altitude) Mach 2.2 (2,400 mk/h, 1,300 kn) at 9,000 m (30,000 ft)
Combat radius 1,390 km (860 mi, 750 nmi)
Ferry range 3,890 km (2,420 mi, 2,100 nmi)
Service ceiling 15,240 m (50,000 ft)
Rate of climb 76.7 m/s (15,100 ft/min)
Wing loading 767 kg/m2 (157 lb/sq ft)
Thrust/weight 0.77
Design load factor  
Avionics – RAPTOR aerial reconnaissance pod
– Rafael LITENING targeting pod
– TIALD laser designator pod
– GEC Sky Shadow electronic countermeasure pod
Armament – Guns:1 × 27 mm (1.06 in) Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon internally mounted under starboard side of fuselage with 180 rounds
– Hardpoints: 3 × under-fuselage and 4 × under-wing pylon stations with a capacity of 9,000 kg (19,800 lb)


  • Germany
    • German Air Force –  210 IDS and 35 ECR Tornados delivered. By December 2018, 94 IDS and 28 ECR aircraft remained in service.
    • German Navy – 112 IDS Tornados delivered, retired in June 2005 with some aircraft being reallocated to the Luftwaffe.
  • Italian Air Force – 100 IDS A-200 Tornados delivered (18 converted to ECR EA-200s), 24 ADV F3 aircraft later leased from the RAF between 1995 and 2004. By December 2018, 70 A-200 and 5 EA-200 aircraft remained in service.
  • Royal Saudi Air Force – 96 IDS and 24 ADV Tornados delivered,ADVs retired in 2006. By December 2020, 61 IDS aircraft remained in service.
  • UK Royal Air Force 385 IDS GR1 and ADV F2/F3 Tornados delivered, including 230 GR1s (142 later upgraded to GR4s), 18 F2s and 147 F3s (retired in 2011). GR4 was retired on 1 April 2019.
Panavia Tornado
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