The Tornado was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium consisting of British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation), MBB of West Germany, and Aeritalia of Italy. It first flew on 14 August 1974 and was introduced into service in 1979–1980. Due to its multirole nature, it was able to replace several different fleets of aircraft in the adopting air forces. The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) became the only export operator of the Tornado in addition to the three original partner nations. A tri-nation training and evaluation unit operating from RAF Cottesmore, the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, maintained a level of international cooperation beyond the production stage.
The Tornado was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Italian Air Force and RSAF during the 1991 Gulf War, in which the Tornado conducted many low-altitude penetrating strike missions. The Tornados of various operators were also used in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War and Kosovo War, the Iraq War, Libya during the Libyan civil war, as well as smaller roles in Afghanistan and Yemen. Including all variants, a total of 992 aircraft were built.
In 1991, the Tornado had its combat debut in the Gulf War, the British contribution to which being designated as Operation Granby. Nearly 60 GR1s were deployed by the United Kingdom to air bases at Muharraq in Bahrain and Tabuk and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. Several Tornado ADVs were deployed to provide air cover, the threat of their long range missiles being a significant deterrent to Iraqi pilots, who would deliberately avoid combat when approached.
Early on in the conflict, the GR1s targeted military airfields across Iraq, deploying a mixture of 450 kg (1,000 lb) unguided bombs in loft-bombing attacks and specialised JP233 runway denial weapons. Six RAF Tornados were lost in the conflict, four were lost while delivering unguided bombs, one was lost after delivering JP233, and one trying to deliver laser-guided bombs. On 17 January 1991, the first Tornado to be lost was shot down by an Iraqi SA-16 missile following a failed low-level bombing run. On 19 January, another RAF Tornado was shot down during an intensive raid on Tallil Air Base. The impact of the Tornado strikes upon Iraqi air fields is difficult to determine.
Following the initial phase of the war, the GR1s switched to medium level strike missions, typical targets for these strikes included munition depots and oil refining facilities. Only the reconnaissance Tornado GR1As continued to operate at the low-altitude high-speed profile throughout the war, the GR1A emerged unscathed despite the inherent danger posed by missions such as conducting pre-attack reconnaissance. In the war's aftermath, Britain maintained a military presence in the Gulf for many years, around half a dozen GR1s were based at Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait for operations over the southern no fly zone as part of Operation Southern Watch; another half a dozen GR1s participated in missions over Northern Iraq in Operation Provide Comfort.
The GR1 participated in the Kosovo War in 1999. The Tornados initially operated from RAF Brüggen, Germany; they later moved to Solenzara Air Base, Corsica. Experience from fighting in Kosovo led to the RAF procuring AGM-65 Maverick missiles and Enhanced Paveway smart bombs for the Tornado fleet. Following the Kosovo War, the GR1 was phased out as more aircraft were upgraded to GR4 standard. The final GR1 was upgraded and returned to the RAF on 10 June 2003.
The GR4 was heavily used in Operation Telic, the British contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. RAF Tornados flew in the opening phase of the war, flying alongside American strike aircraft to rapidly attack key installations. Following an emphasis on minimising casualties, Tornados of No. 617 Squadron deployed the new Storm Shadow precision cruise missile for the first time in the Iraq conflict; while 25% of the UK's air-launched weapons in Kosovo were precision-guided, four years later in Iraq this ratio increased to 85%.
In early 2009, several GR4s arrived at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan, to replace the Harrier GR7/9 aircraft deployed there since November 2004. In 2009, Paveway IV guided bombs were brought into service on the RAF's Tornados, having been previously used in Afghanistan by the Harrier II fleet. In Summer 2010, extra Tornados were dispatched to Kandahar for the duration of the 2010 Afghan election.
Prior to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)'s publication, the retirement of the entire Tornado fleet was under consideration, savings of £7.5 billion were anticipated. The SDSR announced the Tornado would be retained at the expense of the Harrier II, although Tornado numbers are to decline in transition to the Eurofighter Typhoon, and later on, the F-35 Lightning II.
On 18 March 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deployment of Tornados and Typhoons to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. In March 2011, several Tornados flew 3,000-mile (4,800 km) strike missions against targets inside Libya in what were, according to Defence Secretary Liam Fox, "the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict". A variety of weapons were used in operations over Libya, including Laser-guided bombs and Brimstone missiles.
For its use in the 1991 Gulf War, the British Tornados were given a special "Desert Pink" paint. This 15.Squdr. machine got his nickname "MiG Eater" after it shot down a starting Iraqi MiG.
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