The mainstay of the strike/attack force is the Tornado GR1. Designed
and built as a collaborative project in the UK, Germany and Italy, the
programme was initiated in 1968 and known as Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).
A new tri-national company, Panavia, was set up in Germany to build the
aircraft. The first prototype flew on 14 August 1974 and initial orders
from the three partner countries totalled 640 aircraft, with the work
share divided in relation to the number of aircraft ordered; UK and
Germany 42.5% each and Italy 15%. The initial RAF requirement was for 220
aircraft, and the first of these was delivered to the new Tri-national
Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore in July 1980. The
first front-line squadron to re-equip with Tornado was IX Squadron at
Honington (previously a Vulcan unit) from June 1982.
Designed from the outset as a low-level supersonic aircraft, Tornado is
capable of carrying a wide range of conventional stores, including the
Air-Launched Anti-Radar Missile (ALARM), Paveway II and III laser-guided
bombs (LGBs). Future plans include carriage of the new Storm Shadow
long-range stand-off missile and the Brimstone anti-armour missile system.
During the Gulf War of 1991, 5 Tornados were modified to carry the new
Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator (TIALD) pod with great success.
Modifications to a number of aircraft were carried out to produce the GR1B
variant optimised for maritime strike missions with the Sea Eagle
anti-shipping missile and in 1993-94, Nos. 12, 14 and 617 Squadrons
relocated to Lossiemouth to replace the Buccaneers in this role. For self-defence,
the Tornado carries Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and is fitted with twin
internal 27mm cannons.
A dedicated reconnaissance version, the GR1A, is also in RAF service,
and this is described separately. Many GR1s and GR1Bs are scheduled to
undergo a mid-life update programme, and this will see updates to many
internal sytems and defensive aids and extend the service-life of the
Tornado for some 15 years or so, until replaced by the Future Offensive
Air System (FOAS) due in 2015. These updated aircraft are designated GR4s.