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.