The Legendary Panavia Tornado, NATO's Mightiest Fighter Jet, and Ready for World War 3

The Panavia Tornado, as most experts will attest, has long since fallen behind its contemporaries like the F-35, F-22, and (very soon) the NGAD. However, the importance of this fighter to the NATO alliance cannot be overstated. A reason why, according to one specialist:

Panavia Tornado
Panavia Tornado

Due to the staggering expense of developing cutting-edge aircraft in the 21st century, multinational collaboration is commonplace. However, the Panavia Tornado, a joint venture between the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Italy, marked its official beginning in the late 1960s.

The plane has been modified into a variety of different aircraft, including a long-range interceptor and a dedicated defense suppression warplane, but its primary function was as an all-weather strike aircraft and interdictor.

The Tornado, which first took to the air in 1974 and was formally introduced the following year, was created to be a long-range, low-level interceptor equipped primarily with nuclear weapons. If World War III ever broke out, one mission for the combat planes would be to use nuclear weapons to deter an attack on NATO from the massive forces of the Warsaw Pact. There was a wide variety of payload space, efficient turbofan engines, and a variable geometry in this twin-cockpit aircraft.

The inboard sections of its metal wings were fixed, while the outer panels were adjustable, giving it a variable geometry. In place of ailerons, spoilers have been mounted on all sides. The tailfin was made of metal and featured a rudder and a set of horizontal tail surfaces called tailerons that moved in unison or independently to act as elevators.

IDS Tornado

The "swing" wings of the Tornado IDS (Interdictor Strike) variant made it possible for the plane to carry more types of weapons than any other tactical plane in history up to that point, and still loiter efficiently at subsonic speeds before diving to treetop level for a high-speed strike at targets traveling at 921 mph (1,483 km/h). Tornados were famously small and lightweight. As the aircraft with the highest lift coefficient of any supersonic aircraft's wings, it was also the fastest combat aircraft of the day at sea level in clear conditions. This aircraft's capability to penetrate enemy airspace in any weather is unprecedented for a craft of its size.

There were a total of 644 Tornado IDS planes ordered between the three countries; 220 went to the RAF, 212 to the Luftwaffe, 112 to the Marineflieger (West German Naval Air Arm), and 100 went to the Italian Air Force.

Differentiated Air Defense

The avionics and weapons of the Panavia Tornado F.2 Air Defense Version (ADV) were modified from the standard model. It had semi-recessed tandem pairs of Sky Flash missiles under the stretched fuselage and radars made by Marconi, Ferranti, and Foxhunter. To improve performance without refueling, the amount of internal fuel was increased.

Panavia Tornado
Panavia Tornado

Tornado F.Mk3s began arriving at the RAF in batches of 152 in 1986, succeeding the F.Mk2s that had been there as a stopgap measure. The upgraded model had a hand-operated throttle and stick, a radar-absorbing material coating, flare dispensers, and eventually better computers and datalink capability.

Improved defensive subsystems, the ability to engage multiple targets at once, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles are just some of the Capability Sustainment Program-enabled upgrades to the aircraft. Additionally, the RAF upgraded the plane with the GR.Mk4, which featured a new cockpit display, full compatibility with navigation and improved laser designator pods for precision-guided munitions delivery, integration of NVG (night vision goggles), an updated forward-looking infrared sensor, and an improved self-defense suite. The Royal Air Force used 170 ADV planes.

Models of Saudi Arabia and Military Operations

Saudi Arabia purchased 96 IDS and 24 ADV models of the Tornado, making it the only export customer. In 2014, only the Saudi IDS planes remained in active service.

Panavia Tornado
Panavia Tornado

While the IDS was flown by the Royal Air Force, the Italian Air Force, and the Saudi Arabian Air Force during Desert Storm in 1991, the RAF Tornado was the workhorse of the service's combat operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. The Italian Tornado IDS planes were used in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya.

The RAF, Germany, and Italy all used the ADV variant during NATO peacekeeping operations in the 1990s and 1991, respectively, in the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. 

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