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Tornado GR4 - Capabilities

The Tornado GR4, the RAF's primary ground attack aircraft, first entered service as the Tornado GR1 in 1979. Between 1996 and 2003, BAE Systems was responsible for the upgrade of the Tornado GR1 fleet to the GR4 version in time for the GR4 to be deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Telic. There were 140 Tornado GR4s in service in 2006, at which time its out of service date was expected to be 2025.

The basic GR.4 Mid Life Update and its successor programmes Package 1, Package 2 etc. provided the platform with the following packaged capabilities: Paveway III precision bomb, Storm Shadow stand-off missile, Brimstone Advanced Anti-Armour Weapon and RAPTOR Reconnaissance Pod. The adoption of the new RAFAEL LITENING III pod, replacing the TIALD, has further increased the possibilities for attack with new generation laser guided bombs, while the integration of the AIRCM Countermeasures Pod enhanced the aircraft’s defensive capabilities. In conjunction, the displays suite was enhanced and the Main Computer performance was upgraded (modern processor and High Order Language computing). These modifications, mostly conducted in the nineties and the first decade of the new millennium, permitted the British IDS Tornado to retain currency and remain effective in service until their last day of operational service (out-of-service date was March 2019). Additionally, via the recent introduction of a Collision Warning System (CWS) the weapon system satisfied modern airworthiness requirements.

Tornado operating bases were reduced from five (RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Leuchars, RAF Leeming, RAF Coningsby and RAF Marham) to two (RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham). The Minister announced on 16 September 2004 that for the Tornado, instead of support being spread over four locations—BAE Systems Warton (capability upgrades), DARA St Athan (major repair), and RAF Marham (minor repair) and RAF Lossiemouth (minor repair)—from 2007, all levels of support would be done only at the new depth hub, RAF Marham.

The Tornado GR4 is a variable geometry, two-seat, day or night, all-weather attack aircraft capable of delivering a wide variety of weapons. Powered by two Rolls-Royce RB 199 Mk 103 turbofan engines, the GR4 is capable of low-level supersonic flight and can sustain a high subsonic cruise speed. The aircraft can fly automatically at low level using Terrain Following Radar (TFR) when poor weather prevents visual flight. The aircraft is also equipped with Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) and is Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible. This gives it a relatively unique all weather night capability as well as making it an impressive platform for mounting passive night electro-optical operations. For navigation purposes, the Tornado is equipped with an integrated Global Positioning Inertial Navigation System (GPINS). The GR4 also has a Ground Mapping Radar (GMR) to identify fix-points and update navigation systems as well as providing an air to air search facility. The GR4 is also equipped with a Laser Ranger and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) that can be used to locate targets designated on the ground or can provide accurate range information to ground targets.

The GR4 typically carries up to a maximum of 5 Paveway IV smart weapons or 2 Stormshadow cruise missiles but can be configured with various weapons, targeting pods and reconnaissance pods simultaneously including the Dual Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone, ALARM Mk2 missile, Litening III and the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado (RAPTOR).

The Tornado GR4 is a world leader in the specialized field of all-weather, day and night tactical reconnaissance. The RAPTOR pod is one of the most advanced reconnaissance sensors in the world and greatly increases the effectiveness of the aircraft in the reconnaissance role. Its introduction into service gave the GR4 the ability to transmit real-time, LOng Range Oblique Photography (LOROP) to commanders or to view this in cockpit during a mission. The stand-off range of the sensors also allows the aircraft to remain outside heavily defended areas, thus minimizing the aircraft’s exposure to enemy air-defense systems. Additional capability in the Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) role is provided by the Litening III RD and the use of the ROVER data link for providing tactical operators with real time Full Motion Video (FMV) in the battle space.

All GR4 aircraft are capable of carrying the Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile (ALARM), which homes on to the emitted radiation of enemy radar systems and can be used in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role. The GR4 is capable of carrying up to nine ALARM or a mixed configuration of ALARM and bombs. The self protection capability of the GR4 has recently been upgraded by the integration of the state of the art ASRAAM short range air to air missile. Infra-Red (IR) and Radio Frequency (RF) countermeasures are provided by a BOZ-107 Pod on the right wing to dispense chaff and flares and a Sky Shadow-2 electronic countermeasures pod on the left wing. The aircraft is also equipped with an integral 27mm Mauser cannon capable of firing 1700 rounds per minute.

The Tornado GR4 is now equipped with the Storm Shadow missile and 2 variants of the Brimstone missile, including the most advanced DMS variant. The Storm Shadow allows the Tornado to make precision strikes in poor weather with a greatly increased stand-off range from the target area. Legacy Brimstone provides the Tornado with an effective anti-armor weapon coupled with an enhanced stand-off range. The DMS variant enables unrivalled flexibility coupled with precision which is second to none. In addition the Tornado GR4 Force trains and maintains a capability with legacy weapons such as 1000lb class dumb weapons, legacy Paveway II and III as well as their enhanced variants and the AIM 9L.

The Tornado demonstrated its inferiority to the proven Harrier performance in support of ground forces in theater. The Tornado GR4 is not suited to the high altitude of Kandahar airfield (3,000 feet) or to the higher air temperatures experienced during the majority of the year (the Taliban fighting season). Two aircraft have already been lost on the runway because of associated engine performance limitations. As a result of the Tornado's performance limitations in hot and high operating environments, its normal weapons payload on a close air support mission is less than that carried by the Harrier GR9. The Tornado's response time to requests from ground forces for urgent close air support is markedly greater than that of the Harrier (30 minutes to take off as opposed to 10 minutes). Furthermore, if the Kandahar runway is partially blocked for whatever reason (an aircraft crash, the placement of enemy munitions, etc) the Tornado can neither take off nor land—thereby denying ground forces any possibility of receiving close air support. According to a parliamentary reply by Peter Luff dated 14 September 2010, the cost per flight hour of operating the Tornado GR4 was £35,000, the Harrier GR9 £37,000 and the Typhoon FGR4 £70,000.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:32 ZULU