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With the final RAF Tornado GR.4 flight and force disbandment parade on 14th March 2019 at RAF Marham, 37 years of exceptional service officially comes to an end. After quickly establishing itself as the backbone of the RAF’s striking power following its introduction into frontline service in June 1982, the Tornado flew combat sorties in its GR.1, F.3 and GR.4 variants over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Designed as a specialised low level conventional and nuclear bomber able to push its way under the extensive Soviet defences during the late Cold War, the aircraft was successfully developed into a highly flexible and capable tactical reconnaissance, close air support, precision strike and cruise missile launch platform. It also spawned the initially troublesome but ultimately effective F.3 Interceptor variant which defended British skies between 1987 and 2011.

As it retires, the Tornado GR.4 is one of the most capable close air support fighters in service with NATO, but is no longer able to compete with the latest generation of airborne and ground based threat systems in high-intensity conflict scenarios. In the close air support role, it is replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon which can now perform all the RAF GR.4 mission sets except for the standoff tactical reconnaissance role using the RAPTOR pod. For the Tornado’s original role of penetrating heavily defended airspace, the RAF is looking to the new F-35B Lightning II which is also based at RAF Marham. With its advanced low-observability (stealth) and situational awareness capabilities, the F-35 provides a huge leap in combat capability. However, the RAF’s Tornado will be missed by its crews and the aviation community as a whole, although the type will continue to serve (including in the nuclear delivery role) in Germany and Italy for a few more years at least.

This film is dedicated to all the crews who have flown the Tornado throughout the last 37 years, especially those who lost their lives through combat losses or accidents.

Stock footage from Royal Air Force, used under 'Crown Copyright' Free Use policy. IWM Footage Licensed for this documentary by IWM Film, not for reuse without written permission.

 

Author

Justin Bronk
Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology

Justin Bronk is a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at RUSI. He is also... read more

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