UK Tornados Biding Time
October 26/16: The UK RAF has commenced an operational evaluation of upgrades to their Eurofighter Typhoon , giving it the ground-attack capabilities of their Panavia Tornado GR4 fleet. Enhancements include additional human-machine interface integration and increased air-to-surface targeting capabilities for in-service tranche 2 aircraft, which will contribute to its future role. Munitions to be eventually integrated include MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air and Brimstone 2 air-to-surface missiles as well as the Storm Shadow stand-off air-to-surface missiles. The RAF plans to have the Typhoon take over from the Tornado by the end of 2018.
With the retirement of the RAF’s Jaguar fleet, the core of Britain’s land-based tactical air fleet rests in a pair of multinational European fighters. The new Eurofighter Typhoon is one of the top 3 air superiority fighters in the world, and enhancements are finally beginning to give it some precision strike capability. The mainstay of the existing fleet is made up of the British-Italian-German Panavia consortium’s Tornado aircraft, in both F3 air defense and GR4 low-level precision strike configurations.
The F3s are being pushed aside by the Eurofighters, but the GR4s were expected to remain in place until 2025. A 2007 effort added LITENING surveillance and targeting pods, to improve the aircraft’s close air support capabilities on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Now a GBP 253 million (about $496 million) “Capability Upgrade Strategy (Pilot)” program seeks to take the next steps, and is intermeshed with the Tornado fleet’s successful ATTAC fixed-price through-life maintenance program…
Under the CUS (P) program, BAE will design, development, integration and embodiment of an upgraded Secure Communications System and the introduction of a Tactical Data Link Capability onto the Tornado GR4 fleet, along with the integration of the Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bomb.
The program will deliver the upgrade in 2 stages.
Tornado CUS (P) Capability A will incorporate the secure communications upgrade, and integrate the troubled Paveway IV bomb that was recently the target of an effective short-term fix. The Paveway II+ bombs are already operating in Afghanistan. The improved secure communications will allow pilots to talk securely to air controllers on the ground, E-3 AWACS and R1 ASTOR surveillance aircraft, and other combat aircraft on the same operation.
The Tornado CUS (P) Capability B release will provide the Tactical Data Link upgrade. Tactical Information Exchange Capability (TIEC) is the project name adopted for the introduction of a common system solution that provides Link 16 and IDM data link communications for Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR9 fleets. TIEC will not use a standard MIDS-LVT black boxes, substituting an equivalent item which is lighter, slightly smaller, and comes in a single box instead of 2 boxes. It also reportedly offers higher bandwidth for information sharing than Link 16 alone.
The design and development of these capability insertions will take place at BAE Systems’ site at Warton. Once they are developed and tested, fleet upgrades will take place as the aircraft are cycled through the Combined Maintenance and Upgrade facility at RAF Marham, as part of the ATTAC maintenance program. The British have found that combining scheduled maintenance and upgrades is an excellent way to save money, and improve the percentage of planes available for use.
October 26/16: The UK RAF has commenced an operational evaluation of upgrades to their Eurofighter Typhoon, giving it the ground-attack capabilities of their Panavia Tornado GR4 fleet. Enhancements include additional human-machine interface integration and increased air-to-surface targeting capabilities for in-service tranche 2 aircraft, which will contribute to its future role. Munitions to be eventually integrated include MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air and Brimstone 2 air-to-surface missiles as well as the Storm Shadow stand-off air-to-surface missiles. The RAF plans to have the Typhoon take over from the Tornado by the end of 2018.
July 17/15: Two Brimstone ground-attack missiles reportedly detached from a Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter-bomber during landing on Wednesday morning. The aircraft saw a heavy landing at the RAF’s Aktrotiri base in Cyprus, which has been used to launch operations against ISIL in Iraq. The missiles did not detonate and there were not reported injuries.
Nov 25/10: BAE Systems announces that a Tornado GR4 has successfully made its first test flight with the Tactical Information Exchange Capability (TIEC), during a test flight from Warton aerodrome in Lancashire. The airborne Tornado successfully made contact with the supporting E-3D Sentry aircraft and the Tactical Data Link Support Unit at RAF Waddington.
BAE Systems is expected to complete development flying of TIEC on Tornado during 2012. This will lead to Aircraft Design Authority clearance mid 2012 with delivery of an operational capability later that year. Unfortunately, Britain is going to phase out all of its GR4 Tornado aircraft quite early, keeping only a few for use in Afghanistan until 2014-15. BAE Systems.
Additional Readings & Sources
- UK MoD (Jan 14/08) – RAF jets to get Â£350M technology boost. The MoD places the Tornado program’s value at GBP 253 million.
- BAE Systems (Jan 14/08) – BAE Systems Awarded Â£200m Tornado Capability Upgrade Contract. Also DID conversations with BAE.
- DID FOCUS Article – Britain’s Future Contracting for Availability Approach
- DID Spotlight – Britain Hammers Out Through-Life Support Framework for Tornado Fleet. Fully implemented. Describes some of the challenges at a front-line level as well, including the need for a “Dirk Gently” approach to maintenance.
- DID FOCUS Article – The Wonders of Link 16 For Less: MIDS-LVTs (updated)
- DID (Dec 9/07) – My PGM for a Fuze… Paveway-IV Hits Trouble in Britiain