The Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat / Reconnaissance) is a specialized "Suppression of Enemy Air Defense" (SEAD) offshoot of the original Tornado IDS (InterDictor / Strike) strike-fighter. The version is outfitted with a higher degree of onboard sensors as well as support for the AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile. The aircraft is used to counter enemy air defenses prior to the involvement of the main strike force, effectively "blinding" the enemy from further reaction through its air force. As such, ECRs were equipped with sophisticated Electronic CounterMeasures (ECMs) for survival while its missiles can ride incoming radar signals down to their source through an Emitter Location System (ELS). The initial Tornado ECR was delivered on May 21st, 1990 and have been operated by the air services of Germany and Italy. The United Kingdom, the other major Tornado IDS user, instead makes use of a specialized Tornado ADV F.3 mark for the role.
There are three major Tornado forms - the IDS, ECR and ADV. The IDS is the dedicated strike platform while the ECR is the dedicated SEAD model. The ADV is the interceptor variant. The original Tornado IDS was taken into service by West Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. The Panavia name was formed from the tri-national effort of West Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom while strike-minded and ECR Tornados still form a vital part of the aerial firepower for Western Europe - though its service life is expected to come to a close by the end of the decade.
The German Luftwaffe was the recipient of some 35 Tornado ECR platforms and these were received as "new-build" aircraft. Italian ECRs were sixteen examples converted from existing Tornado IDS strike platforms. The German and Italian models differed between themselves in several ways: German ECRs operated with an uprated engine and integrated reconnaissance equipment while Italian ECRs made use of a slightly downrated powerplant and external reconnaissance pods.
ECRs are more closely associated with the Tornado IDS line than the Tornado ADV and shared up to 80% commonality of parts, largely visually similar to one another on the whole. However, all Tornado forms share the same two-seat tandem cockpit (with ejection seats), single vertical tail fin arrangement and swing-wing capability. The swing-wing approach allows for the aircraft to adjust its wing angle in-flight, in turn allowing the airframe to retain the qualities of both low-speed and high-speed performance when needed.
February 2019 - German authorities have dropped the F-35 Lightning II from contention for its PANAVIA Tornado strike-fighter replacement initiative.
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