Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 16:21 UK

Fact file: Tornado


The Panavia Tornado has been one of the mainstays of the Royal Air Force since first entering service in 1980.

It is mainly used as a strike/attack aircraft and was a collaborative project between Germany, Italy and the UK.

The Tornado GR4 is used to attack enemy targets and can be used in a reconnaissance role. The Tornado F3 is the RAF's primary air defence fighter.

Tornado F3
Crew: 2
Main weapons: Skyflash, AIM-9 Sidewinder, Air-launched anti-radar missile, Advanced short and medium range air-to-air missiles, twin internal 27mm cannons
Max speed: 2.2 Mach

Weapons - including the Storm Shadow cruise missile - and upgrades mean that the Tornado is more versatile and can hit targets from a significant distance.

The 2003 conflict with Iraq saw the first use of the RAF's Storm Shadow cruise missile.

The MOD describes the missile as being designed for "long range, highly accurate, deep penetration" against enemy command and control bunkers. It is fired from a Tornado GR4.

Conventionally armed Storm Shadow has a range of 250km and flies just under the speed of sound. It can be fired at night and is said to be very accurate.

The introduction of the missile gives Tornados attack options other than the low-level, high risk attacks it carried out on Iraqi targets in the 1991 Gulf War.

Tornado GR4s will soon be equipped with the new Brimstone missile which will provide the aircraft with an effective anti-armour weapon.

The GR4 is also a specialist aircraft for all-weather, day and night tactical reconnaissance. The new Raptor (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado) pod gives the aircraft the ability to download real-time, long-range, oblique-photography data to ground stations or to the cockpit during a mission

The Tornado F3 is a twin-engine aircraft with a top speed of 1,674mph or Mach 2.2 - twice the speed of sound.

The "variable geometry" wings sweep back at speed.

It is capable of carrying 18,000 pounds of armaments depending on mission requirements.

Other weapons that can be carried include anti-radar missiles, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Sea Eagle anti-shipping missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. It also has twin internal 27mm cannon.

Tornados were part of a support and reconnaissance missions in Iraq and were used to enforce the Iraqi no-fly zones.

The Tornado is due to be phased out of service in 2018. The F3s will progressively be replaced by Typhoon F2s.

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