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Tornado GR4 Strike/Attack Aircraft - Background

The Tornado GR1 Mid Life Update (MLU) program enhanced the capabilities of the Tornado aircraft to find and successfully attack its targets in all weathers, and reduce its vulnerability to counter attack. The updated aircraft was designated Tornado GR4. The RAF's IDS (Interdictor Strike) Tornado aircraft were expected to have a service life-span of up to 40 years and to ensure their combat effectiveness underwent a Mid Life Update (MLU) - the largest of its kind in Europe. The Mid Life Update program returned 142 IDS Tornado aircraft to industry and upgraded them to a new variant, designated Tornado GR4/4A, which became the new common standard for the RAF IDS aircraft.

The Tornado GR1A was a world leader in the field of all-weather, day and night tactical reconnaissance. The GR1A had no cannons mounted in the forward fuselage. Replacing these are a Sideways Looking Infra-Red system and a Linescan infra-red surveillance system. Originally intended for use in Central Europe, interdicting Warsaw Pact armored columns and operating in the counter-air role against enemy airfields, the GR1 soon faced a more challenging future, with improved air defenses to face and more difficult targets to engage.

The 1bn program was split into three contractual elements - development, production embodiment and support. Panavia, the industrial partnership consisting of Alenia, DASA and British Aerospace brought together originally to design, develop and manufacture Tornado aircraft, is the prime contractor for the Development contract but British Aerospace lead for the Production and Support contracts. Contracts for the development and production investment phases of the Tornado GR1 midlife update program had been placed in mid-1990 with Panavia, the Tornado prime contractor. The Tornado MLU program had a difficult start as the world socio-political environment changed but emerged as one of the success stories of British industry. Development work started in earnest but in the world some momentous events were taking place with the ending of the cold war. The original plan to embody the MLU standard onto the Tornado aircraft was to incorporate it into the last batch of aircraft to be built and retro-fit the earlier builds. However, this plan was thrown into disarray by the cancellation of the last batch buy from the UK. This left a hiatus over how to embody the MLU standard into the Tornado fleet.

In the 1991 Gulf War the aircraft carried out some of the toughest missions during the conflict - low-level attacks at night against heavily defended targets. The lessons learned from the Gulf War emphasized that the sensors were optimized for low level operations. At night the crew were blind to other aircraft resulting in tactics having a heavy reliance on timing that gave little flexibility to evade and safely avoid air and ground threats. Once operations were moved to medium level there was a greater reliance on precision weapons and illuminators.

On the domestic political front two government reviews took place - 'Options for Change', and 'Front Line First'. These resulted in MLU being under severe financial pressure not least because the politicians were looking for savings from the Defence budget, the so-called peace dividend, as a result of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, but also the embodiment strategy was still not clear. In addition it was desirable to incorporate the Gulf War lessons. This led to a reassessment of the requirement to take the Tornado through to 2018.

The original program assumed 161 aircraft would updated. This gave rise to affordability problems. Because of losses during Op GRANBY, the update of 161 aircraft would have required early (1st batch), unsuitable aircraft to have been brought to an acceptable standard. The requirement was therefore reduced to 142 aircraft.

Some tasks were originally excluded from the MLU specification as they could not be adequately defined at the time. In particular, additional Government Furnished Equipment, additions to the operational requirement (TIALD and a Digital Processing & Preparation Station) and additional trials support required as a result of the Changed Costing Cancellation of the 8th Production Batch resulted in additional design work falling to the development contract. Additionally, the technical complexity of the program was underestimated.

Following substantial slippage to the ISO, and significant cost growth, the Department reviewed the MLU program and concluded that a reduced scope program, designated MLU93, represented a more cost effective way forward. This preserved the essential features of the full MLU program and struck a balance between capability, quantity and affordability. MLU93 was endorsed in July 1994, following which, contracts for development and production planning were placed via the Tornado Tri-National arrangements, with a production contract being let nationally with British Aerospace (BAe).

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Page last modified: 29-05-2013 18:45:36 ZULU