Panavia Tornado ADV

The Panavia Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV) was a long-range, twin-engine interceptor version of the swing-wing Panavia Tornado. The aircraft's first flight was on 27 October 1979, and it entered service in 1986. It was retired on 22 March 2011 by the Royal Air Force. It was also previously operated by the Italian Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The aircraft was originally designed to intercept Soviet bombers if they came in from the East to strike the United Kingdom. The Tornado ADV for the Royal Saudi Air Force were produced to F3 standard. Both the RAF and RSAF have replaced the Tornado ADV with the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Panavia Tornado ADV
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Panavia Aircraft GmbH
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1985
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Italy View
Saudi Arabia View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1985 2011 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Panavia Aircraft GmbH 218 View

The Tornado ADV had its origins in an RAF requirement (Air Staff Requirement 395 or ASR.395), which called for a long-range interceptor to replace the Lightning F6 and Phantom FGR2. The requirement for a modern interceptor was driven by the threat posed by the large Soviet long-range bomber fleet, in particular the supersonic Tupolev Tu-22M. From the beginning of the Tornado IDS's development in 1968, the possibility of a variant dedicated to air defence had been quietly considered; several American aircraft had been evaluated but found to be unsuitable. The concept was not attractive to other European partners, thus UK proceeded alone; development of the Tornado ADV was approved on 4 March 1976, with British Aerospace (BAe, now BAE Systems) to provide 3 prototypes.

The first prototype was rolled out at Warton on 9 August 1979, before making its maiden flight on 27 October 1979. The second and third development aircraft made their first flights on 18 July and 18 November 1980, respectively. During the flight testing, the ADV demonstrated noticeably superior supersonic acceleration to the IDS, even while carrying a full weapons loadout. The testing of the prototypes was greatly aided by the use of real-time telemetry being broadcast back to ground technicians from aircraft in flight. The third prototype was primarily used in the testing of the new Marconi/Ferranti AI.24 Foxhunter airborne interception radar.

The Tornado ADV's differences compared to the IDS include a greater sweep angle on the inboard fixed wing sections, deletion of the Krueger flaps and the port cannon, a longer radome for the Foxhunter radar, and a fuselage stretch of 1.36 m to allow the carriage of four Skyflash semi-active radar homing missiles. The stretch was applied to the Tornado front fuselage being built by the UK, with a plug being added immediately behind the cockpit, which had the incidental benefit of reducing drag and making space for an additional fuel tank (Tank '0') carrying 200 imperial gallons (909 L; 240 U.S. gal) of fuel. The artificial feel of the flight controls was lighter on the ADV than on the IDS. Various internal avionics, pilot displays, guidance systems and software also differed; including an automatic wing sweep selector not fitted to the strike aircraft.

The Tornado F2 (sometimes written as F.2) was the initial version of the Tornado ADV in Royal Air Force service, with 18 being built. It first flew on 5 March 1984 and was powered by the same RB.199 Mk 103 engines used by the IDS Tornado, capable of four wing sweep settings, and fitted to carry only two underwing Sidewinder missiles. Serious problems were discovered with the Foxhunter radar, which meant that the aircraft were delivered with concrete and lead ballast installed in the nose as an interim measure until they could be fitted with the radar sets. The ballast was nicknamed Blue Circle, which was a play on the Rainbow Codes nomenclature, and a British brand of cement called Blue Circle.

A total of 165 Tornado ADVs were ordered by Britain, the majority being the Tornado F3.

Royal Air Force

The Tornado F2 was first delivered to the RAF on 5 November 1984, and its short career came to an end after the Tornado F3 entered service. These aircraft were used primarily for training by No. 229 Operational Conversion Unit RAF until they were placed in storage. The F2s were intended to be updated to Tornado F2A standard (similar to the F3 but without the engine upgrade) but only one F2A, the Tornado Integrated Avionics Research Aircraft (TIARA) was converted, having been customised by QinetiQ for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) trials at MoD Boscombe Down. Additionally, in 2007, QinetiQ rented four Tornado F3s from the MOD to support weapons testing activities.

Entering service in July 1986, 152 Tornado F3s were ordered. The Tornado F3 made its combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War with 18 aircraft deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The aircraft deployed to the region were later upgraded in a crash program with improved radar and engines, better defensive countermeasures and several adaptions to the weapons systems to improve combat performance in the Iraqi theatre; however they still lacked modern IFF and secure communications equipment. They therefore flew patrols further back from Iraqi airspace where encounters with enemy aircraft were less likely, and did not get the opportunity to engage any enemy aircraft. From August 1990 to March 1991, the RAF's F3 detachment flew more than 2000 combat air patrol sorties.

Following the Gulf War, the RAF maintained a small squadron of F3s in Saudi Arabia to continue routine patrols of Iraqi no-fly zones. The Tornado F3 saw further combat service, from 1993 to 1995 as escort fighters in Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia, and in 1999 flying combat air patrols during Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia; during these extended overseas deployments, the F3 proved troublesome to maintain at operational readiness when based outside the UK. Following lengthy delays in the Eurofighter programme to develop a successor to the F3 interceptor, in the late 1990s the RAF initiated a major upgrade program to enhance the aircraft's capabilities, primarily by integrating several newer air-to-air missiles.

RAF 43 Sqn (ZE887) Tornado F3 takes off at Kemble Air Day 2008

In 2003, the Tornado F3 was one of the assets used in Operation Telic, Britain's contribution to the Iraq War. An expeditionary force composed of 43 and 111 Squadrons (known as Leuchars Fighter Wing) was deployed to the region to carry out offensive counter-air operations. The Tornado F3's of Leuchars Fighter Wing operated all over Iraq, including missions over and around Baghdad, throughout Operation Telic. Due to a lack of airborne threats materialising in the theatre, the F3s were withdrawn and returned to European bases that same year.

As part of Delivering Security in a Changing World, the British Government's 2003 Defence White Paper, on 21 July 2004, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon detailed plans to reduce the number of Tornado F3 squadrons by one to three squadrons. This represented 16 aircraft and was the first stage in the transition to the F3's replacement, the Eurofighter Typhoon, which entered operational service with the RAF in 2005. In April 2009, it was announced that the Tornado F3 force would be reduced to one squadron of 12 aircraft in September 2009. The last operational Tornado F3s in RAF service were retired when No. 111 Squadron RAF, located at RAF Leuchars, was disbanded on 22 March 2011.

QinetiQ's four F3s remained flying after the RAF's retirement of the type, being used for testing of the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile, and thus were the only flying examples in the UK. The final mission was flown on 20 June 2012, and the last three flown to RAF Leeming for scrapping on 9 July 2012.

Italian Air Force

In the early 1990s the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana, or AMI) identified a requirement for a fighter to boost its air defence capabilities pending introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon. These fighters were to operate alongside the service's obsolescent F-104ASA Starfighters. The Tornado ADV was selected from, amongst others, the F-16. On 17 November 1993, Italy signed an agreement with the RAF to lease 24 Tornado F3s from the RAF for a period of ten years. At this time the Eurofighter Typhoon was expected to begin entry into service around 2000.

First training of AMI pilots began in March 1995 at RAF Coningsby while technicians gained experience at RAF Cottesmore and Coningsby. The first aircraft was accepted on 5 July 1995 and flown to its Italian base the same day. Delivery of the first batch was completed by 1996; these aircraft were deployed at Gioia del Colle in Southern Italy. The second batch was delivered between February and July 1997, these aircraft were of a slightly higher specification. In early 1997, the AMI cancelled a series of scheduled upgrades to its Tornado fleet, stating that it was placing priority for funding on the developing Eurofighter instead.

In 2000, with major delays hampering the Eurofighter, the AMI began a search for another interim fighter. While the Tornado itself was considered, any long term extension to the lease would have involved upgrade to RAF CSP standard and thus was not considered cost effective. In February 2001, Italy announced its arrangement to lease 35 F-16s from the United States. The AMI returned its Tornados to the RAF, with the final aircraft arriving at RAF Saint Athan on 7 December 2004. One aircraft was retained by the Italian Air Force for static display purposes.

Royal Saudi Air Force

A Tornado F3 aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force sits on the flight line during Operation Desert Shield

On 26 September 1985, Saudi Arabia and Britain signed a memorandum of understanding towards what would be widely known as the Al-Yamamah arms deal, for the provision of various military equipment and services. The September 1985 deal involved the purchase of a large number of Tornado aircraft; including the Tornado ADV variant, along with armaments, radar equipment, spare parts and a pilot-training programme for the inbound fleet, in exchange for providing 600,000 barrels of oil per day over the course of several years. The first Al-Yamamah agreement ordered 24 Tornado ADVs and 48 Tornado IDSs. The RSAF received its first ADV on 9 February 1989.

Historian Anthony Cordesman commented that "the Tornado ADV did not prove to be a successful air defence fighter... The RSAF's experience with the first eight Tornado ADVs was negative". In 1990, the RSAF signed several agreements with the US to later receive deliveries of the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, and thus had a reduced need for the Tornado ADV; Saudi Arabia chose to convert further orders for up to 60 Tornado ADVs to the IDS strike variant instead.

In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm over neighbouring Iraq, RSAF Tornado ADVs flew 451 air-defence sorties, operating in conjunction with RSAF F-15s. In 2006, it was announced that, in addition to Saudi Arabia's contract to purchase the Eurofighter Typhoon, both the Tornado IDS and ADV fleets would undergo a £2.5 billion program of upgrades, allowing them to remain in service to at least 2020. The Eurofighter has now replaced the Tornado ADV in the air-defence role.

Role Interceptor
Manufacturer Panavia Aircraft GmbH
First flight 27 October 1979
Introduction 1 May 1985
Retired 2011 (RAF)
Status Retired
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Italian Air Force
Number built 218
Developed from Panavia Tornado IDS

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 18.68 m (61 ft 3½ in)
  • Wingspan: (Variable geometry wing)
  • At 25° wing position : 13.91 m (45 ft 7½ in)
  • At 67° wing position: 8.60 m (28 ft 2½ in)
  • Height: 5.95 m (19 ft 6½ in)
  • Wing area: 26.60 m² (286.3 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 14,500 kg (31,970 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 27,986 kg (61,700 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Turbo-Union RB199-34R Augmented Turbofan
  • Dry thrust: 40.5 kN (9,100 lbf) each
  • Thrust with afterburner: 73.5 kN (16,520 lbf) each


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.2 (2,400 km/h, 1,490 mph) at 9,000 m / 30,000 ft altitude; 800 knots, 1,482 km/h, 921 mph indicated airspeed near sea level
  • Combat radius: more than 1,853 km (1000 nmi, 1,151 mi) (subsonic), more than 556 km (300 nmi, 345 mi) supersonic
  • Ferry range: 4,265 km (2,300 nmi, 2,650 mi) with four external tanks
  • Endurance: 2 hr combat air patrol at 560–740 km (300–400 nmi, 345–460 mi) from base
  • Service ceiling: 15,240 m (50,000 ft)


  • Guns: 1× 27 mm (1.063 in) Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon with 180 rounds (internally mounted under starboard side of fuselage, versus 2× BK-27 mounted on Panavia Tornado IDS)
  • Hardpoints: 10 total (4× semi-recessed under-fuselage, 2× under-fuselage, 4× swivelling under-wing) holding up to 9000 kg (19,800 lb) of payload, the two inner wing pylons have shoulder launch rails for 2× Short-Range AAM (SRAAM) each
  • Missiles: **4× AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-132 ASRAAM
  • 4× British Aerospace Skyflash or AIM-120 AMRAAM (mounted on 4 semi-recessed under-fuselage hardpoints)
  • OthersUp to 2× drop tanks for extended range/loitering time. Up to 4 drop tanks for ferry role (at the expense of 4 Skyflash/AMRAAM).


  • GEC-Marconi/Ferranti AI.24 Foxhunter radar

End notes