Information about the RAF - RAF Aircraft Tornado GR4/GR4A




RAF Tornado GR4

The Tornado Multi-Role Combat aircraft (MRCA) has been the RAF’s principal strike weapon system over the past three decades.

Designed in the Cold War to penetrate Soviet air defence at low-level, the Tornado is nuclear-capable, but since the withdrawal from service of the WE177 nuclear bomb in 1998, the Tornado strike capability has been restricted to conventional weapons.

The Tornado was jointly developed by the UK, West Germany and Italy under a collaborative agreement and manufactured by a consortium of companies formed under the name of Panavia. The Tornado GR1 was the most numerous and important aircraft in the RAF inventory, and the GR1 operated in the strike/attack and reconnaissance roles. The first prototype flew in 1974 and the first RAF Squadron equipped with the GR1 became operational in 1982.

During the 1990 Gulf War, Tornado GR1s were amongst the first aircraft in action from 17 January 1991. During the war, the Tornado GR1 force flew 1,500 operational sorties divided almost equally between offensive counter air targets such as airfields and air defence sites, and interdiction targets such as bridges. The RAF deployed 48 x GR1 in the area during hostilities. A total of six GR1s was lost in action, five of which were involved in low-or medium- level attacks with 1,000 pound bombs and one that was flying a low-level JP233 mission. The final three weeks of the air war saw the Tornado GR1 force concentrating almost exclusively on day and night precision attacks dropping LGBs from medium altitude.

142 x Tornado GR-1s were upgraded to GR4 standard under the Tornado Mid-Life Update (MLU) programme costing some £943m. Deliveries began in 1998 and were completed by the end of 2003. Compared to the GR1, the GR4 has a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), a wide angle Head-Up Display (HUD), improved cockpit displays, Night-Vision Goggle (NVG) compatibility, new avionics and weapons systems, updated computer software, and Global Positioning System (GPS).

The upgrade also re-armed the Tornado with the Storm Shadow stand-off missile, Brimstone advanced anti-armour weapon, and the Paveway EPW LGB. New sensors include the RAPTOR and Vicon reconnaissance pods and an improved Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator (TIALD) targeting pod.

A separate programme covered an integrated Defensive Aids Suite consisting of the radar warning receiver, Sky Shadow radar jamming pod and BOZ-107 chaff and flare dispenser. The standard Tornado GR4 can also fulfil tactical reconnaissance tasks when equipped with an external camera pod. The GR4A is used as a combat reconnaissance aircraft - also upgraded under the GR1 series MLU.

During the Iraq War of 2003 (Op Telic), GR4s from all five active Tornado squadrons were deployed. One Tornado was lost to friendly fire. The Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile was fired operationally for the first time from a Tornado GR4 during the conflict.

During the 2011 Libyan campaign, (Operation Ellamy), 16 x Tornado GR4s attacked targets using both Brimstone (230 employed) and Storm Shadow missiles. The average cost of a Tornado mission from RAF Marham to a target in Libya was approximately £37,000.

Expect a Tornado GR4 squadron to have 15 established crews.

The assumed out of service date for the RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft is 2019, (subject to confirmation in the 2015 SDSR).

Tornado GR4 Specifications
Crew 2
Wingspan (open) 13.9m
Wingspan (swept) 8.6m
Height 5.9m
Length 16.7m
Max Weapon Load 18,000lb/8,180kg
Max Take Off Weight 27,900kg
Max Speed Mach 2.2 (1,452 mph/2,333kph)
Max Ferry Range approx 3,900km
Required Runway Length approx 900m
Engines 2 x Turbo-Union RB 199-34R Mk103 Turbofans
Armament 1 x 27mm Mauser Cannon
3 x weapon points under fuselage
4 x weapon points under wings
AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM
Paveway II, III, EPR (IV)
Storm Shadow CASOM

In 2013, the latest strike variant of the Tornado - the GR4 is in service with:

12 (Bomber) Squadron

12 x Tornado GR4

RAF Lossiemouth

15 (Reserve) Squadron

12 x Tornado GR4/4A

RAF Lossiemouth

617 Squadron

12 x Tornado GR4/4A

RAF Lossiemouth

II (AC) Squadron 12 x Tornado GR4A RAF Marham (Recce)

9 (B) Squadron

12 x Tornado GR4/4A

RAF Marham

31 Squadron

12 x Tornado GR4/4A

RAF Marham

41 Sqn 12 x Tornado GR4/4A RAF Coningsby (FJWOEU)

Photo Copyright Alasdair Taylor