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Panavia Tornado ADV

The Panavia Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV) is a fighter interceptor version of the Panavia Tornado in service with the Royal Air Force. The aircraft's first flight was on 27 October 1979 and entered service in 1986. It is a long-ranged twin engine aircraft, originally designed to intercept Soviet bombers as they came in from the east to strike the United Kingdom. The Tornado ADV for the Royal Saudi Air Force were produced to F3 standard. Both the RAF and RSAF are replacing the Tornado ADV with the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Design and development

The aircraft was developed to meet an RAF requirement (Air Staff Requirement 395 or ASR.395) for a long-range interceptor to replace the Lightning F6 and Phantom FGR2. Development was approved on 4 March 1976, with BAe to provide 3 prototypes. The first prototype was rolled out at Warton on 9 August 1979. The prototype made its maiden flight on 27 October 1979.

The Tornado ADV's differences compared to the IDS include a greater sweep angle on the inboard fixed wing sections, a longer radome for the Foxhunter airborne interception radar, and a fuselage stretch of 1.36 m to allow the carriage of four Skyflash semi-active radar homing missiles. This stretch was applied to the Tornado front fuselage being built by the UK, with a plug being added immediately behind the cockpit, which had the incidental benefit of reducing drag and making space for an additional fuel tank (Tank '0') carrying of fuel.

The Mk 104 engines were optimised for high-altitude use with longer afterburner nozzles. The IDS's ground-attack systems were replaced by a Marconi/Ferranti AI.24 Foxhunter air-interception radar, housed in an extended radome. The port cannon was also deleted.

The Tornado ADV has been criticised for its lack of "true" fighter performance. However to criticise the aircraft for this is to misunderstand the mission for which it was developed. The ADV was designed to fly and patrol far from base over the North Sea and Northern Atlantic and to intercept its targets at long range, not to have significant dogfighting capabilities.

Operational history

Royal Air Force

Tornado F2

The Tornado F2 (sometimes written as F.2) was an interim version of the air superiority version (ADV) of the Panavia Tornado in Royal Air Force service, with 18 being built. It was powered by the RB.199 Mk 103 engines used by the IDS Tornado, was only able to carry two underwing Sidewinder missiles rather than the four missiles carried by the definitive aircraft, and omitted automatic wing sweep. Serious problems were discovered with the Foxhunter radar, which meant that the aircraft were delivered with concrete and lead ballast installed in the nose as an interim measure until they could be fitted with the radar sets. The concrete radar was nicknamed Blue Circle, which was both in line with British radar nomenclature (e.g. Blue Fox) and a play on a British brand of concrete called Blue Circle. These aircraft were used primarily for training until they were upgraded or retired.

The Tornado F2 first flew on March 5, 1984, was first delivered to the RAF on 5 November 1984, and its short career came to an end four years later when the F3s came into the RAF. Some F2 airframes were later updated to Tornado F2A standard (similar to the F3 but without the engine upgrade) as attrition replacements. Only one F2A, the Tornado Integrated Avionics Research Aircraft (TIARA), remains flying, having been customised by QinetiQ for UAV trials at MoD Boscombe Down.

Tornado F3

The Tornado F3 made its maiden flight on 20 November 1985. Entering service in July 1986, 152 F3s were ordered. The F3's primary weapons when it entered service were the short-range AIM-9 Sidewinder and British Aerospace Skyflash, a British medium-range air-to-air missile based on the American AIM-7 Sparrow.

The Tornado made its combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War with 18 aircraft deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. However, they did not get the opportunity to engage any enemy aircraft. The F3 lacked modern IFF and a full suite of defensive aids, thus they flew patrols further back from Iraqi airspace where encounters with enemy aircraft were less likely. After 1991 combat operations continued as the southern no-fly zones over Iraq were patrolled. The Tornados flew from Saudi Arabia under Operation Bolton and then Operation Resinate South. On average six aircraft were involved. These operations continued right up until 2003 when Iraq was invaded again. Operation Telic saw 14 F3s deployed to Saudi Arabia. The F3s (of 43(F) and 111(F) Sqns) were, unlike during the 91 Gulf War, deployed deep into Iraq both before and after the shock and awe air strikes. Again no air-to-air victories were scored as the Iraqi Air Force flew no sorties at all during the 2003 campaign.

Capability Sustainment Programme

Realising that in its current form the F3 would not continue as an effective platform up to its planned out of service date of 2010, the UK Ministry of Defence initiated the Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP). This project, announced on March 5, 1996, included;

  • Integration of ASRAAM and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles;
  • Radar upgrades to improve multi-target engagement;
  • Improved pilot/navigator displays;
  • New processor and weapon management computers.

The CSP would see the removal of a non-standard state of aircraft; various upgrades (notably to the Foxhunter radar) had led to the situation described as "fleets within fleets." However the Foxhunter radar, having overcome many of the early difficulties, was to cause significant problems during the upgrade programme. This manifested itself when efforts were made to integrate the AMRAAM missile with the aircraft as a replacement for Skyflash. The radar had to be considerably modified to interface properly with the missile.

In what was criticised as shortsighted at the time, the F3 would not exploit the full capabilities of the AMRAAM missile. AMRAAM uses two mid-course updates after launch to refresh target information prior to its own seeker taking over. The CSP, as announced, would not provide this capability. Despite becoming operational before 2002 the F3 force deployed on operations with the Skyflash, not AMRAAM, leading to suggestions that the decision not to fully integrate the missile made it no more effective than the original missile. On June 8 2001, the MoD signed a contract for a further upgrade to the F3 force to allow these midcourse updates. The upgrade to give full AMRAAM capability, together with updated IFF, known as the AMRAAM Optimisation Programme (AOP) was incorporated in the remaining F3 fleet between December 2003 and September 2006..

Tornado EF3

A further upgrade, undisclosed until early 2003, was the integration of the ALARM anti-radiation missile to allow suppression of enemy air defence missions. The F3's existing radar warning receivers formed the basis of an extremely effective Emitter Location System, which is used to locate radar antennae. The modified aircraft were then given the new designation Tornado EF3 and operated by XI Squadron.


After 21 years, the replacement for the Tornado F3 is now on the horizon, as production of its successor, the Eurofighter Typhoon, has started. The Operational Evaluation Unit for the Typhoon has formed, and the Operational Conversion Unit was formed in 2004. 2005 saw the first squadron of Typhoons entering operational service, and by 2012, the F3 will be gone from RAF service. Delivering Security in a Changing World is the UK's vision for the future of the armed forces, as part of this on 21 July 2004 Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon detailed plans to reduce the number of F3 squadrons by one to three squadrons. This represents 16 aircraft and is the first stage in the transition to the Typhoon.

Royal Saudi Air Force

The UK and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding on 26 September 1985 for the Al Yamamah arms deal. This involved the supply of 24 Tornado ADVs along with other aircraft, weapons, radar, spares and a pilot-training programme. The RSAF received its first ADV on 9 February 1989.

Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare)

In the early 1990s the Italian Air Force (AMI) identified a requirement for a "bridging fighter" to boost its air defence capabilities pending introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon. These fighters were to operate alongside the service's F-104ASA Starfighters which were approaching obsolescence, particularly with regard to multinational and coalition operations. The Tornado ADV was selected from, amongst others, the F-16. In 1994 Italy announced its intention to lease 24 Tornado F3s from the RAF for a period of ten years. At this time the Eurofighter Typhoon was expected to begin entry into service around 2000.

First training of AMI pilots began in March 1995 at RAF Coningsby while technicians gained experience at RAF Cottesmore and Coningsby. The first aircraft was accepted on 5 July 1995 and flown to its Italian base the same day. Delivery of the first batch was completed by 1996. The second batch was delivered between February and July 1997 and these aircraft were of a slightly higher specification.

AMI Tornados flew combat air patrols during Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia in early 1999.

In 2000, with major delays hampering the Eurofighter, the AMI began a search for another interim fighter. While the Tornado itself was considered, any long term extension to the lease would have involved upgrade to RAF CSP standard at least. This was not considered cost effective and 34 ex-USAF F-16s were selected instead. By 2003 the AMI began returning Tornados to the RAF, with the final aircraft arriving at RAF Saint Athan on 7 December 2004. One aircraft was retained by the Italian Air Force.

Tornados in Italian service suffered poor serviceability rates. While this could be surprising given Italy's fleet of the Tornado IDS, the service did not have immediate access to spare equipment and engines available to the RAF. The aircraft did however allow the AMI to participate in multi-national training and operations.


Tornado F2 :Tornado F2A :Tornado F3 :Tornado EF3 :


Specifications (Tornado F3)

See also


  • Evans, Andy. Panavia Tornado.Ramsbury, Wiltshire UK:Crowood Press. 1999. ISBN 1 861126 201 9.

External links

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