Britain and Germany Are Still Upgrading the Tornado

 - August 27, 2014, 7:54 AM
New British Defence Minister Michael Fallon with the Tornado deployment at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. A Litening III EO/IR targeting pod is visible on the aircraft in the background. (Photo: MoD Crown Copyright 2014)

The deployment of four UK Royal Air Force Tornadoes to perform overwatch of Iraq, and an unconfirmed report last week that more might be deployed for surveillance of northern Nigeria, serves to illustrate the ongoing value of the aging but effective “Tonka.” Although the RAF fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2019 in favor of the F-35, upgrades continue, with another one announced recently. Meanwhile, the German air force intends to keep its Tornado fleet until at least 2025, with its own upgrades.

Tornado surveillance of northern Iraq has demonstrated the value of the Rafael Litening III targeting pod for “non-traditional ISR.” The third-generation FLIR and CCD for the visible spectrum provide the aircrew with an instant, easy-to-interpret view of the terrain below. “The images can be downloaded to ground forces and the aircrew can talk to them over secure radios…it’s very easy to use, and ideal for road searches,” said a senior RAF officer. For more sophisticated reconnaissance—such as that mooted over the forests of northern Nigeria—the Tornado’s Raptor reconnaissance pod would likely be used. This system was provided by Goodrich and was further developed as the DB-110, which is now marketed and supported by UT Aerospace Systems.

The latest RAF Tornado upgrade is to the electronic warfare system, and was announced by Selex ES last month. The Finmeccanica subsidiary will perform a “fast-track rework” of the aircraft’s Skyshadow 2 jamming pod to meet current and anticipated radar threats. The entire receiver chain will be replaced, a digital control unit and a digital techniques generator will be introduced, and the travelling wave tube (TWT) transmitters will be updated. The upgraded system will be renamed the Common Jamming Pod (CJP) because (a Selex ES spokesman told AIN) it could remain in service on other British aircraft after the Tornado fleet is retired.

In conjunction with Airbus Defence & Space, the German air force will upgrade its 85-strong Tornado fleet to the ASSTA 3.1 standard over the next five years. ASSTA stands for Avionics System Software Tornado Ada, which has progressed from version 1 and version 3.0 to the latest standard. Version 3.0 introduced a new radar warning receiver; new displays; Link 16; and the GBU-38 and 54 GPS and dual GPS/laser-guided JDAM bombs. Version 3.1 will include two larger color display screens with improved presentation of information for the laser designator and airborne reconnaissance pods; and 21 new multifunction information distribution system messages, for a total of 23.

Stefan Riesenecker, a development flight-test engineer with Airbus D&S, said the 3.1 version offers a tenfold improvement in display and communication. The German Tornado airframes have been life-extended from 4,000 to 8,000 hours, and could remain in service until 2030, he added.