in Defence

Tornado's RAF service ends as Project Centurion heralds new strike capability.

Posted 29 March 2019 · Add Comment

As three Tornado GR4 aircraft made their final pass over skies across the UK in February, as part of a long farewell for the UK's fleet which retires from service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) on Sunday 31st March 2019, it helped to mark the end of many decades of service and was another poignant moment for those associated with this icon of air power.

Courtesy BAE Systems

Tornado has been a vital part of the RAF from the day it entered into service in 1980 and, through a combination of enhancements and capability improvements, it has remained just as important to the very end of its operational life for the RAF as it was at the start. BAE Systems played a pivotal role in providing decades of support, training and upgrades for the RAF’s Tornado fleet.

Built as part of a consortium between the UK, Germany and Italy, the Tornado is a swing-wing  aircraft renowned for its ability to operate in any weather conditions, at low level at any time of the day or night. Whilst active service for the RAF has now almost come to a close, the aircraft continues in service and continues to form an vital component of other air forces around the world.

For the UK, BAE Systems provided a guarantee that the availability, capability and effectiveness of the UK’s Tornado fleet would be maintained throughout its service life. Through the Availability Transformation: Tornado Aircraft Contract (ATTAC), it worked closely with the RAF, delivering a commitment to supporting and maintaining the fleet, with the responsibility of ensuring that sufficient aircraft were available for the squadrons to fly, making them easily deployable on operations.

A 250-strong team has worked day in and day out alongside the air force in order to deliver this service, mainly from RAF Marham in Norfolk, with communications links to the supply chain, engineering and project management teams at BAE Systems' Warton and Samlesbury sites in Lancashire. It is a partnership that has been so successful it has led to similar contracts, including on the Typhoon and Hawk fleets for the RAF.
Yet as Tornado retires from service for the UK, a new era of air capability begins. In January this year, the latest tranche of technology and capability upgrades for Typhoon, delivered by BAE Systems in partnership with the RAF, the UK Ministry of Defence and partners across industry, was declared operational, strengthening Typhoon’s position at the forefront of military capability.

Project Centurion delivers seamless transition of capability from the Tornado GR4 to Typhoon, including a new package of advanced weapons, software and avionics enhancements. In particular, it has delivered the integration of Meteor, Storm Shadow and Brimstone 2 missiles onto Typhoon, cementing its position as the cornerstone of combat air capability for the RAF. Completion of Project Centurion ensures Typhoon will successfully operate alongside current and future platforms and further development with the latest technology will now continue to meet new and emerging threats.

The near future will see Typhoon will work seamlessly alongside the UK’s fleet of F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which will operate off the UK’s two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, ensuring the UK retains a potent and fully interoperable force mix for decades to come.


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