End of Tornado in RAF 2019

report by: Doug Mc Donald

By the end of March 2019, one of the world’s most successful, combat-proven, fast jets will have been retired.  Having entered front-line service with the Royal Air Force in 1982, the Tornado GR has assembled an unparalleled service record. It has been in constant combat action since 1991, and these very same aircraft still provide the backbone of the RAF’s precision-strike force.  You’d be hard pressed to find a combat jet in any air force around the world that has offered the kind of value for money that the Panavia Tornado GR4 has for the RAF. The very same airframes that entered service as GR1s way back in 1982 are still right at the leading edge of British air-power projection all these years later in Operation ‘Shader’ in the Middle East. They’ve been upgraded heavily, and many of the early jets have now been retired — reduced to parts to help resource and maintain the dwindling remaining fleet — but around 30 aircraft still remain in service in three front-line squadrons.  Ultimately, upgraded ‘Project Centurion’ Eurofighter Typhoons and F-35B Lightning IIs will replace these old warriors next year, but for now the RAF Tornado GR Force (TGRF) is as busy as ever!

The TTTE provided training on the Panavia Tornado for the Royal Air Force, Luftwaffe and Italian Air Force. The memorandum of understanding establishing the unit was signed in 1979 by the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, with the first RAF Tornados arriving at Cottesmore on 1st July 1980. These were followed by the first Luftwaffe aircraft on 2nd September 1980 and the first Italian Tornado on 5th April 1982. At its peak, a total of 23 German, 19 British and six Italian aircraft were on strength. Flying training began on 5th January 1981, manned by personnel from all three nations, training 300 crews a year at its peak. The unit was disbanded on 24th February 1999.

Fact is that when the British government calls for precision strike, combat ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance), or that ‘day-one’ entry into contested airspace, the Tornado GR4 has remained the platform of choice. The balance is tipping towards the swing-role Typhoon, and ultimately the new capabilities that will enable the Typhoon to replace the Tornado — MBDA Storm Shadow and Brimstone weapons — will be fielded at the end of this year. Until then, the Tornado remains the only UK platform capable of carrying and surgically employing the MBDA Storm Shadow stand-off cruise missile and the similarly world-beating Dual-Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone. Brimstones, Paveway IVs, Litening targeting pod and RAPTOR recce pod. The RAF Tornado GR4 fleet prepares for retirement. The official deadline is set to Mar. 31, 2019, even though there are rumors that the aircraft will eventually fly for the last time on Mar. 14.  Before leaving active series, after nearly 40 years of operations, the iconic attack aircraft conducted a series of flypasts over many of the country’s RAF bases where hundreds of people gathered to watch the aircraft’s farewell.  Three tours were arranged by the RAF, on Feb. 19, 20 and 21.

Three special painted jets, the 31 Squadron “Goldstars”, 9 Squadron IX (Bomber) Squadron “Green Bats” and the 1980’s camouflage tribute “Tonkas” (as the aircraft are nicknamed since the early ’80s), took part in the flypasts launching from RAF Marham in Norfolk to cover (roughly) all the airbases in Central, Southern UK and Scotland.  Kudos to the RAF Marham media team for an excellent coverage of the final flypasts, including weather and schedule updates.  The Tornado GR4 FINale flypasts are now confirmed! Tues 19, Wed 20, Thu 21 Feb. Final UK operations involving the Tornado are being conducted as the RAF fully transitions the type’s ground-attack duties to its Eurofighter Typhoon force. Prepared via an upgrade activity dubbed Project Centurion, this will enable the single-seat type to employ MBDA’s Brimstone air-to-surface missile and Storm Shadow cruise missile in combat for the first time.

The multirole fighter’s weapons capabilities will now be taken up by the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon fleet, in combination with the newly delivered F-35B Lightning. A three-year, £425 million investment programme known as ‘Project Centurion’ has seen the Typhoon equipped with the ability to carry the Meteor air-to-air missile, the Stormshadow deep strike cruise missile and the precision attack missile Brimstone. According to the RAF, it has already trialled the improved Typhoons alongside the F-35s in joint operational manoeuvres. The F-35B Lightning is now operational and the Typhoon is now fully multi-role capable and able to take on the Tornado’s missions. RAF Typhoon in December 2018 on QRA for first time with the Meteor Air-to-Air missile. These improved RAF Typhoon jets will form the backbone of the UK’s combat air fleet, alongside the recently introduced new fleet of F-35 Lighting jets over the coming years.