Panavia Tornado IDS (InterDictor / Strike) All-Weather, Low-Level Strike Aircraft
The Panavia Tornado became a limited production, specialized strike variant of the famous Panavia Tornado line.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Panavia Tornado emerged as the product of a consortium of European companies from the United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy during the latter half of the Cold War years. The company was established as "Panavia Aircraft GmbH" and founded on March 29th, 1969, headquartered in Hallbergmoos, Bavaria, Germany (the group was originally to include The Netherlands). The aircraft was one of several famous ""swing wing" developments to appear during the period that included the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23/-27 "Flogger". The engines would come from the Turbo-Union consortium made up of Rolls-Royce, MTU and FiatAvio.
The Tornado was designed as a strike-oriented fighter that could operate from short and/or battle damaged runways at a time when World War 3 was a very real possibility across Europe. Indeed, the Tornado proved a very important part of the European deterrent during this time, intended to serve as a first-strike system should the Cold War ever have gone "hot". The Panavia Tornado has since seen operational service with Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
The initial prototype went airborne for the first time on August 14th, 1974 and production-quality forms were being delivered beginning in July of 1980. The radar was a Texas Instruments terrain following system with ground-mapping capabilities. Flight control was aided through a full fly-by-wire suite with center stick. Both crew positions held ejection seats. Navigation was by way of a digital Inertial Navigation System.
The Tornado line evolved through three major production variants during its service life, these becoming the strike-oriented Tornado IDS ("InterDictor / Strike"), the Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat / Reconnaissance) for countering enemy air defenses, and the Tornado ADV - the dedicated interceptor of the group. The IDS and ECR airframes were the two most closely related marks, sharing some 80% commonality in parts but it was the IDS mark that could be called on to deliver all manner of ordnance including guided missiles and bombs while providing its own defense through twin internal cannons and onboard countermeasures. All Tornado forms were two-seat offerings. The variable wing nature of the design allowed the aircraft to adjust its wing angle in-flight. This design decision allowed the airframe to main all of the qualities of low-speed handling as well as high-speed performance when needed. The wing assemblies could be manually (or automatically in some models) adjusted to reach angles of 25- to 67-degrees.
The Tornado IDS was given a thick fuselage with slab sides and a flat floor. The twin engine configuration (side-by-side) was aspirated through two large intake openings found at the sides of the aircraft. The crewmembers were seated in tandem with the pilot at front and systems officer at rear. The wings were swept along their leading and trailing edges - each sporting several hardpoints which also adjusted based on wing sweep (always facing forward). Additional hardpoints were found under the fuselage to broaden the aircraft's ordnance-carrying qualities considerably. The empennage consisted of a single vertical tail fin and swept horizontal tailplanes. The tricycle undercarriage was wholly retractable in the design.
The RAF took on initial stocks of IDS models as the Tornado GR.1 and these appeared in 1979 with laser-rangefinders fitted under the nose. They were also given down-rated engines and fixed intake openings. A reconnaissance-minded version then became the GR.1A outfitted with BAe Side-Looking InfraRed (SLIR) and the Vinten IR linescan system (sans internal cannons) while the GR.1B mark formed into a specialized anti-ship strike model (armed with 4 x "Sea Eagle" anti-ship missiles), these based on the preceding GR.1. Some 26 examples were modified as such and early versions lacked onboard tracking facilities (added later). An upgrade program spanning from 1996 to 2003 yielded the GR.4 (strike) and GR.4A (reconnaissance) of which 142 eventually existed. The GR.4 was born of a GR.1 modernization endeavor (mid-life upgrade) and this series arrived in 1994 while still in use today (February 2014). Introduced was an all-new HUD (Head-Up Display), improved Electronic CounterMeasures (ECMs) and improved avionics.
The GR.4 is powered by 2 x Turbo-Union RB199-34R Mk 103 afterburning turbofan engines delivering 9,850lbs thrust dry and 17,270lbs thrust with reheat. Maximum speed is 1,500 miles per hour (approximately Mach 2.2) with a range out to 2,415 miles (ferry), a service ceiling of 50,000 feet and a rate-of-climb reaching 15,100 feet per minute. Standard armament includes 2 x 27mm Mauser BK-27 internal cannons along the fuselage sides and up to eleven hardpoints for missiles, bombs, fuel tanks and mission pods.
To date, the Tornado platform has been used during the Gulf War (1991), the Bosnian War (1992-1995), the Kosovo War (1998-1999), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-present), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-present), the Libyan Civil War (2011) and in limited action over Yemen. Even today, the Tornado GR.4 mark remains an important portion of European strike firepower though its useful service life is approaching with stocks expected to be retired in full by the end of the decade.
The Eurofighter Typhoon and incoming Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II is expected to spearhead the UK strike arm following the removal of Tornados from service.
In early 2015, it was announced that the service lives of British RAF Tornados would be extended due to the British commitment in Iraq against ISIS. Three squadrons will be retained until March of 2017 and the aircraft maintain many of the strike qualities and munitions support still lacking in the Typhoon aircraft.
December 2015 - The British are still committed to a 2019 retirement of its GR.4 stock. These will be succeeded by Eurofighter Typhoons fully-equipped with the Tornado's existing Air-to-Ground (AG) capabilities.