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Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)

Air Defense Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft

United Kingdom | 1985

"The Panavia Tornado ADV was the dedicated Air Interceptor variant of the successful swing-wing Tornado fighter-bomber series."

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 03/12/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant) was developed for the Royal Air Force (RAF) to fulfill the role of long-range, maritime interceptor. The ADV was based on the Tornado IDS ground attack variant and was selected as a cost-effective solution to replace the aging inventory of McDonnell Douglas Phantom IIs and English Electric Lightnings. Despite seeing a production run of just 218 aircraft, the Tornado ADV variant formed an important "quick-reaction" force against airspace aggression on the part of the Soviets. The Tornado ADV variant is set to be replaced in British and Saudi service by the ultra-modern, oft-delayed Eurofighter Typhoon. In all, service of the ADV has been limited to the British RAF, the Saudis RAF and Italian AF - the latter no longer making use of the platform. As of March 2011, the RAF has retired their fleet of Panavia Tornado ADV aircraft.

The Panavia Name

The name "Panavia" stems from the multi-national design effort to produce a "Multi-Role Combat Aircraft" (project "MRCA", formerly known as "MRA" - Multi-Role Aircraft). MRA was initiated by Canada, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands and West Germany to replace their stable of aging Lockheed F-104 Starfighters which were beginning to reach the end of their useful lives. Britain joined the program when their other AFVG (Anglo French Variable Geometry) "swing-wing" joint venture with France fizzled. While Canada, Belgium and Netherlands ultimately left the now-named MRCA project, Britain, West Germany and Italy forged ahead to form Panavia Aircraft GmbH, splitting the company stake between the three (for both the airframe and the powerplant production). Components (broken down into the nose/tail - Britain; fuselage - West Germany; and wings - Italy) would be individually completed in their respective nations before final assembly. The engine conglomerate (Turbo-Union) was made up of Rolls-Royce of Britain and MTU of West Germany and Italian firm FIAT. Italy held a minor stake in both the airframe and poweplant groups. Panavia Aircraft GmbH was based in Germany while Turbo Union Ltd was based in the UK. The NATO Multirole Combat Aircraft Development and Production Management Agency (NAMMA) was established to direct and manage Tornado production. Similarly, the model was used for the newer Eurofighter Typhoon program, then known as the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA). NAMMA and EFA were both superseded by the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA). As a result, the multi-national Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH has taken over Panavia's commitment to the Tornados.

The Tornado ADV is Born

Despite the "multi-role" direction of the MRCA program (the end product becoming the Tornado IDS - InterDiction / Strike), there was little value in showcasing the new aircraft as a point air defense platform. Britain's major threat was to be the unescorted, long-range bombers originating from within the Soviet Union. While the agile aircraft offerings of mainland Europe proved suitable for that respective environment, defense of the British Isles brought with it a certain dedicated level of requirements from a point defense fighter design - mainly long ranges over featureless water.

As such, the RAF took it upon themselves to have the Tornado airframe offer up a sort of "double duty" requirement within its ranks. Seizing the opportunity, the RAF moved to develop a cost-effective solution for its aging air defense corps, a solution not requiring wholesale changes of the base IDS variant. The heart of the new system would be the Marconi Avionics pulse-Doppler radar suite tied to the new British Aerospace Dynamics XJ521 Sky Flash medium-range air-to-air missile (a derivative of the American AIM-7 Sparrow). Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagements would be the call of the day for such a maritime interceptor and the new Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant) was perceived as the most effective solution in bringing down a fast, high-flying Soviet bomber.

In 1976, the initial Tornado order of 385 total was now to include 165 Tornado ADV variants. The prototype ADV "ZA254" (first of the of the three ultimately constructed) was unveiled on August 9th, 1979 with a first flight taking place on October 27th, 1979, over Warton. This initial flight included the use of several "dummy" Skyflash missiles and was able to top Mach 1.0. Handling was improved over the IDS counterpart thanks in part to the revised lengthened fuselage sporting a new center of gravity. Further tests validated the design and included an in-flight refueling exercise as well as a night-time landing attempt. The second prototype became ZA267 on July 18th, 1980, and was tasked with weapons development for the ADV program. The final prototype became ZA254 on November 18th, 1980, and ultimately ended her developmental tenure as a museum-like showpiece outside of RAF Coningsby.

First Delivery and Operation

Deliveries of the initial F.Mk 2 began in 1984 and comprised just 16 examples. Interestingly, these first airframes were delivered without their all-important Marconi radars. Apparently, the Marconi Foxhunter radar still had much in the way of issues to be ironed out. A forward concrete weight (designated as "Blue Circle") was therefore added in their place to keep the weight of the aircraft balanced per her intended specifications and training could commence. The first ADV squadron formed as No.29 out of RAF Coningsby in May of 1987. Operational status was determined by the end of November of that year. These early F.Mk 2s were eventually set up in storage and stripped of useful parts for future ADVs further down the road.

The Tornado ADV quickly offered an integral part of the UK's air defense web. The ADV would operate in conjunction with NATO forces and ground points as well as in-flight fuel tankers and supply the UK proper with a long-range defense element. The basis of this defense web would become the ADV itself, coupling speed, firepower and tracking/targeting capabilities well-beyond that as was made available from the aircraft in the current RAF inventory. The ADV furthered the legacy of the Tornado family, though of by some as THE most important aircraft development of the Cold War.

Tornado ADV Differences Over the Tornado IDS

The Tornado AVD maintained the same general external appearance of the base Tornado IDS strike models but featured a lengthened and more pointed fuselage with a revised nose assembly to house the longer and pointed Marconi/Ferranti AI.24 "Foxhunter" interception radar. Wing sweep was increased some and the portside internal cannon was removed while an internal fuel tank was added for improved range. A fully-retractable fuel receptacle was fitted to the portside of the aircraft. The out underwing pylons of the base IDS were not utilized in the ADV. The revised wing sweep of the ADV brought about a 45.6 foot wingspan at its 25-degree setting. The 67-degree setting yields a wingspan of 28.2 feet. Later ADVs were given an automatic wing sweep function. As a whole, the Tornado ADV still shared some 80% commonality of parts between her and the Tornado IDS, truly making her the cost-effective solution the RAF was searching for.

You're No Dogfighter

While an interceptor by name, the Tornado ADV was never to be fully remembered for her close-in fighter qualities - this no doubt being the inherent limitation of her original low-level strike fighter origins. As a Cold War-era design, she was a missile-laden platform at heart, designed for overall speed to a target area and delivery of air-to-air missiles against aerial targets at range. This explains her need for only one internal cannon (she was not expected to be much of a close-range dogfighting mount to begin with) and her many available external hardpoints. Where the ADV did shine was in her delivery of speed, response time during take-offs and her BVR engagement capabilities. By modern standards, however, this would seem to no longer fit the perceived air combat bill but - in Cold War thinking - this was appropriately the norm in aircraft design - even across the United States and the Soviet Union. Regardless, the Tornado ADV still maintains a presence within the ranks of her users - predominantly the RAF - and has even recently seen action in the interception of stray Russian Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" bombers near UK airspace.

Tornado ADV Walk-Around

The Tornado ADV looks very much the part of her ground-strike variant. She sports a conical nose assembly, ahead of her cockpit, housing the internal interception radar. The cockpit features room for two seated in tandem (a pilot and his Weapons Systems Officer - WSO) and set under a single piece, rear-hinged clear canopy showcasing some light framing. Intakes are mounted to either side of the fuselage and provide the ADV with a rather "stout" overhead appearance. The intake openings are nearly-square in their design and aspirate their respective powerplants buried deep within the rear of the airframe. The engines exhaust through conventional circular rings at the rear. The empennage is dominated by a single, large-area vertical tail fin dividing the twin engine placement. The base of the fin is straddled by rectangular retractable speed brakes to either side. The all-moving stabilizers extend out from either side of each engine housing. The main swing-wing assemblies are controlled by an inner mechanical (computer-controlled) sweep function. They extend out from the fuselage design by way of "wing gloves", a small static area of wing joining the wing proper to the fuselage commonly found in swing-wing aircraft. The main wings themselves are relatively straight in design, with slight sweep along both the leading and trailing edges. When in the fully-swept position, the Tornado ADV takes on a wholly unique and somewhat menacing, single-minded appearance. The undercarriage is conventional and of the tricycle arrangement. This arrangement includes a pair of single-wheeled main landing gear legs (retracting into the fuselage undersides) and a double-wheeled nose landing gear leg (retracting forwards under the pilots cockpit floor).

Tornado Performance

The twin Turbo-Union powerplants of the Tornado ADV F.Mk 3 provide up to 9,104lbf of dry thrust each. With afterburner, this increases out to 16,410lbf of thrust each engine at the cost of range (engines of this class rely on raw fuel pumped into the exhaust to provide a period of temporary speed, a speed burst of sorts). Maximum speed is listed at 1,452 miles per hour (approximately Mach 2.27), making her a supersonic mount and her service ceiling is reported to be about 50,000 feet. Ferry range is an impressive 2,650 miles (when utilizing 4 x external drop tanks) while operational ranges are limited out to 869 miles. While fuel efficient at low-level, the turbofan engines of the ADV at medium- and high-levels deliver a slight thrust reduction - an effect not so prevalent in turbojet-inspired designs. Empty weight of the ADV is in the area of 32,000lb while a fully-loaded ADV can weigh as much as 61,700lb.

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Tornado Armament

Standard armament for the Tornado ADV includes a single internal 27mm Mauser BK-27 cannon with 180 projectiles to its name. One of the two cannons of the original Tornado IDS variant were removed in the new ADV version, leaving just the starboard cannon emplacement intact (plus noting that the ADV was not intended to be a dogfighter in her primary role). Perhaps more impressive is the ADVs ability to carry external munitions across its ten weapon stations:

The hardpoints are divided between two, four or six underwing and four under-fuselage positions. The underwing mounts have a swiveling capability to align the ordnance straight forward depending on the current wing sweep in use (so as to not substantially break up airflow). The four fuselage placements are themselves semi-recessed hardpoints. The semi-recessed hardpoints give the illusion that the missile is "hugging" the underside of the fuselage, seemingly laying flat up against it. In all, the ADV is cleared to manage some 19,800lbs of ordnance.

Ordnance is entirely made up of air-to-air munitions. For short-range work, the ADV relies on the American AIM-9 Sidewinder or the British AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile). Sidewinders are typically fitted to the sides and above of the main inboard wing pylon on specialized rail launchers. Medium range actions are addressed through use of the American AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) or the British "Skyflash" (based on the American AIM-7 Sparrow). The medium range missiles take up the four semi-recessed hardpoints made possible by the ADVs lengthened fuselage and are staggered in their placement.

Droptanks can be carried in place of ordnance for ferrying or long-range patrols. The ADV can field such fuel tanks in the ferry role or for extended patrol sorties. These tanks come in the 396-gallon or 594-gallon designs, being either as those used on the original IDS or the larger "Hindenburger" type developed exclusively for use by the ADV variant.

Despite her strike origins, the ADV model is not cleared (nor used) to manage air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs or conventional drop ordnance.

Tornado Production

The first Tornado ADV F.Mk 2 was delivered to the RAF on November 5th, 1984. Eighteen Tornado ADV F.Mk 2 production forms ultimately existed. This was the initial two-seat, all-weather variant mounting 2 x Turbo-Union RB.199-34R Mk 103 series turbofan engines. The wings featured a four-position sweep setting to vary the flight posture for the task at hand - take-off, landing, cruise and interception at speed. The Tornado ADV F.Mk 2A designation existed to cover a single conversion model - this an F.Mk 2 upgraded to the new F.Mk 3 standard while still retaining her original F.Mk 2 series engines. Weapons provisions included two underwing Sidewinder missile mounts.

The Tornado ADV F.Mk 3 was an improved form of the F.Mk 2 production model and quickly replaced it as the standard Tornado ADV, first flying on November 20th, 1985 and beginning service in July of 1986. The F.Mk 3 made up a bulk of the ADV production run and became the definitive version of the variant. These new aircraft were now powered by an equally-new pair of Turbo-Union RB.199-34R Mk 104 turbofan engines (with extended afterburning nozzles) and featured automated control of the wing sweep function. The new engine was tied to a DECU 500 digital engine control system, becoming the first aircraft in the world to feature such a component. The computer proved handy in offering pilot direct control over his aircraft and delivered error diagnosis and important engine monitoring. A 10% thrust performance gain was noted in the improved Tornado ADV as was a reduced consumption mark when using full afterburner.

Improved capability for the short-range AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile was included in the new F.Mk 3 - an additional two Sidewinders could now be carried (for a total of four). Avionics were brought up to more modern standards and the inertial navigation system was revised for the better. An Automatic Maneuver Device System (AMDS) was implemented. F.Mk 3s could be visually differentiated from their F.Mk 2 counterparts by their revised vertical fin trailing edge base - left open in the IDS variant. The F.Mk 3 was made operational in 1989.

F.Mk 3s updated for use with the ALARM anti-radar missile were unofficially known as the Tornado ADV EF.Mk 3 and operated solely by No.11 Squadron. Compatibility with the ALARM missile was made apparent in 2003.

A modernization program for the Tornado ADV was put into effect beginning with its announcement in March of 1996. The radar suite was further improved to allow for the multiple engagement of airborne targets. The system was also given improved capability for AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles mated to a new weapons management processing suite. Displays in both cockpits were upgraded as was IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), a feature lacking in Gulf War ADVs. These improvements were intended to keep the ADV flying up past its estimated 2010 life-span expectancy.

Tornados in the Gulf

The 1991 Gulf War was the first use of the Tornado ADV in anger. These RAF aircraft were based out of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia but were these limited in their overall use due to their lack of IFF and limited countermeasures protection. As such, Tornado ADVs were limited to patrol zones held well-away from the heat of the action and, after the war, were used in patrolling the Southern "No-Fly" zone. These patrols more-or-less continued up until the 2003 "Shock and Awe" campaign which saw American and coalition forces invade Iraq to depose leader Saddam Hussein. Once again, Tornado ADVs were launched from bases within Saudi Arabia but this time were allowed actions deeper into Iraqi territory. Despite their use in either war, the Tornado ADV did not score any air-to-air kills. However, this was mostly due to the lack of available Iraqi air targets as most Iraqi Air Force aircraft either did not make it airborne or promptly made a bee-line for the safety of Iran. Those that did get airborne were promptly shot down by other coalition aircraft.

In all, Tornado ADVs flew a total of 1,147 sorties in the 1991 Gulf campaign, this made up of 696 on the part of the RAF and 451 on the part of the Saudis. The RAF launched 54 ADV missions on the first day of actions while the Saudis added another 24 of their own. Lesser missions, about 10 per day, were flown in the days following.

ADVs in Saudi Service

Saudi Arabia maintained a single squadron of Tornado ADVs beginning operations in 1989. The squadron, as of this writing, is still in operational service with the Kingdom and is part of the 24-aircraft delivery from the UK. Saudi aircrews trained alongside RAF personnel at Coningsby. Interestingly, the Saudi Royal Air Force ADVs maintained the same RAF-style gray camouflage scheme, differing only in national flash insignia and identification numbers. Saudi Arabia became the only "true" foreign purchaser of the Tornado ADV variant. Its purchased examples came straight from the Panavia assembly lines, these examples initially intended to stock the original RAF order (this measure enacted to ensure prompt delivery to the Saudis, who were on a sort of aircraft buying frenzy at the time). The RAF order was subsequently fulfilled with later "new-builds". Saudi ADVs were delivered in two batches of 12 aircraft each. A third delivery of some expected 36 ADVs almost transpired until the Saudis steered themselves in the direction of the American McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles. In practice, the long-range, air superiority-minded Eagle proved to fulfill the Saudi Air Force need better than the maritime-oriented Tornado ADV could.

As mentioned above, Saudi ADVs fought alongside their RAF brethren in the 1991 Gulf War.

ADVs in Italian Service

Italy showcased the Tornado ADV in two of its Aeronautica Militare squadrons spanning use from 1995 to 2003. The Italian Air Force was looking to bridge the gap between its stable of obsolete Lockheed F-104 Starfighters and the impending arrival of the highly-touted, advanced next generation Eurofighter Typhoon. The Aeronautica Militare leased some 24 Tornado ADVs from the RAF as an interim measure pending deliveries of the Typhoon. Use of these ADVs was limited to an extent for they were still wholly RAF property and could be recalled to the UK mainland in the event of an emergency and even if on short notice. Tornados in Italian service were noteworthy for their generally poor serviceability rate. Initial deliveries began in July of 1995 and the contract specified a lease term of five years with an option for a further five. After delays in the Eurofighter program mounted and lack of access to Tornado ADV engines and equipment, the Italians purchased former USAF General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons to replace their Tornado ADVs. With the exception of one Tornado aircraft, all Italian ADVs were returned to the RAF in full by 2004.

Italian Tornado ADVs were fielded in anger in the Yugoslavian air campaign under the NATO coalition. The coalition contingent was known as "Operation Allied Force".

ADVs With the Royal Air Force

Naturally, the Royal Air Force became the biggest operator of the new ADV. While most of her squadrons have since been disbanded as of this writing, No.111 Squadron has been operating their ADVs actively from 1990 onwards. Disbanded squadrons included No.5, No.11, No.23, No.25, No.29, No.43, No.56, No.229 OCU and No.1435 Flight.

At one point, Oman was on the books for at least eight Tornado ADVs but cancelled their order in favor of the less expensive BAe Hawk.

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March 2011 - The British Royal Air Force has officially retired its fleet of Panavia Tornado ADV aircraft, this to coincide with the fielding of the Eurofighter Typhoon platform which has taken over the Tornado's duties. Italy operated their ADVs until 2004 and Saudi Arabia followed with retirement of their fleet in 2006.

Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Panavia Tornado ADV F.Mk 3 Air Defense Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft.
2 x Turbo-Union RB199-34R Mk 104 turbofan engines developing 16,520lb of thrust each with afterburner.
1,479 mph
2,381 kph | 1,286 kts
Max Speed
50,000 ft
15,240 m | 9 miles
Service Ceiling
1,150 miles
1,850 km | 999 nm
Operational Range
40,000 ft/min
12,192 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Panavia Tornado ADV F.Mk 3 Air Defense Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft.
61.3 ft
18.68 m
O/A Length
45.6 ft
(13.91 m)
O/A Width
19.5 ft
(5.95 m)
O/A Height
31,967 lb
(14,500 kg)
Empty Weight
61,500 lb
(27,896 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant) Air Defense Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft .
1 x 27mm Mauser BK-27 internal cannon.

4 x "Sky Flash" air-to-air missiles.
4 x AIM-9 "Sidewinder" short-ranged air-to-air missiles.
Notable series variants as part of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant) family line.
Tornado ADV - Three Prototypes Produced
Tornado ADV F.Mk 2 - Base Production Interceptor; fitted with 2x Turbo-Union RB.199-34R Mk 103 series turbofan engines; support for 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinders; 18 examples produced.
Tornado ADV F.Mk 2A - Single Example modified from an F.Mk 2 to the F.Mk 3 standard retaining her Mk 103 series turbofan engines.
Tornado ADV F.Mk 3 - Improved Production Model; fitted with 2x Turbo-Union RB.199-34R Mk 104 series turbofan engines; lengthened fuselage; extra internal fuel tank; automatic wing sweep control system; 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder support; improved avionics and handling; improved engine performance and fuel efficiency.
Tornado ADV EF.Mk 3 - "Unofficial Designation" for F.Mk 3 variants fitted with ALARM missile function.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 218 Units

Contractor(s): Panavia Aircaft GmbH; BAe - UK / MBB - Germany / Alenia - Italy
National flag of Italy National flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia National flag of the United Kingdom

[ Italy; Saudi Arabia; United Kingdom ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 1500mph
Lo: 750mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (1,479mph).

Graph Average of 1,125 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
High-angled top view of a banking Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Left side view of a departing Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Right side view of a Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor on display
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Excellent underside view of the Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor in flight
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
High-angled view of a Saudi Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Dramatic view of a climbing Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
View of a passing Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor; note staggared missile placement along fuselage centerline
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Front left side view of a taxiing Saudi Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Close-up detail view of the canopy and cockpit of a Saudi Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor
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Image of the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant)
Right side view of a Saudi Panavia Tornado ADV interceptor with full afterburn

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defense Variant) Air Defense Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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