Tornado landing after sortie
Aircraft

Tornado: The Fighter Leaving Service After 40 Years

The final RAF Tornados will leave service before the end of March, with its capabilities transferred to the Typhoon.

Tornado landing after sortie

The Tornado has launched hundreds of airstrikes on so-called Islamic State in the Middle East (Picture: MOD).

Built more than 40 years ago to fight a nuclear war, the RAF's primary ground attack platform is due to be retired from service by March 2019.

The Tornado can also conduct intelligence gathering missions and is armed with a variety of Paveway bombs, Brimstone air-to-air missiles and Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

The aircraft also possesses an Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) for defensive purposes.

When deployed in an armed reconnaissance or close air support role, it would usually be armed with a mix of Paveway IV and Dual-Mode Seeker Brimstone, combined with a Litening III targeting pod, and in addition to the internal 27mm gun.

Tornado being prepared for sortie
A Tornado being prepared ahead of a sortie (Picture: MOD).

The aircraft entered service in 1979 and first saw combat in the first Gulf War, playing a major part in the RAF’s contribution to Operation Desert Shield and the liberation of Kuwait.

It was designed to attack countries in the Soviet Union, flying at low level and at great speed.

In 1997 the GR1 was upgraded and its successor, the GR4, was given upgraded avionics and the ability to carry cruise missiles.

By the time Tornado production ended in 1998, just short of a thousand had been built.

In 2009, the Tornado replaced the Harrier force in Afghanistan where it took part in intelligence gathering for coalition forces.

Two years later it was involved in Operation Ellamy against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

The aircraft has also performed duties in Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan, and more recently against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

The Tornado has been an integral part of Operation Shader – the British contribution to the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS).

Eight GR4s relocated to RAF Akrotiri where they flew daily missions over Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Shader.

Based in Cyprus, the aircraft has flown in pairs alongside aircraft from other coalition nations to gather intelligence and hit IS targets in support of ground forces or civilians.

Involved from the very start of the operation, they have gathered intelligence and launched hundreds of airstrikes against IS.

A RAF Tornado aircraft (right) escorts a giant C17 Globemaster above Buckingham Palace for Queen's birthday 140608 CREDIT MOD.jpg
An RAF Tornado aircraft (right) escorts a giant C17 Globemaster over Buckingham Palace to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen's birthday (Picture: MOD).

The aircraft may be 40-years-old but it can still carry a huge array of weaponry and the technology inside the plane is, in the words of one RAF officer, still “state of the art”.

Regardless, after more or less constant deployment since the early 1990s, the Tornado is to be phased out.

The RAF's Typhoon is to be significantly upgraded as part of a £2 billion investment over the next decade, including receiving the Tornado's capabilities.

The Defence Secretary paid tribute to the Tornado as he announced that nine of the UK's F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets are ready to be deployed on operations for the first time.

Gavin Williamson said of the Tornado: "This is an amazing aircraft that has inspired so many.

"I remember as a child seeing it flying over ahead as I grew up in Scarborough as it flew down the Vale of Pickering.

"It was a magnificent aircraft, but an aircraft that has done such amazing service for our country."