RAF Tornado F3

Panavia Tornado F3
First Flight October 27 1979
Entered Service 1986
ManufacturerBritish Aerospace
Length18.68 m61 ft 1 in
Wingspan 68&deg sweep8.6 m ft in
Wingspan 17&deg sweep13.9 m ft in
Height5.9 m ft in
Wing Area26.6 m²286 ft²
Empty14,500 kg32,000 lb
Loaded kg lb
Maximum Takeoff28,000 kg61,700 lb
Engines2 x Turbo-Union RB199 turbofans
Dry thrust40.5 kN 9,100 lbf
Afterburner thrust73 kN 16,400 lbf
Maximum Speed 2,333 km/h1,480 mph
Combat Range1,667 km1,036 miles
Ferry Range km miles
Service Ceiling 21,300 m70,000 ft
Rate of Climb4572.5 m/min15,000 ft/min
Wing Loading kg/m² lb/ft²
Thrust/Weight at
normal takeoff weight
N/kg lbf/lb
AvionicsAI-24 Foxhunter radar
Guns1 x 27 mm Mauser BK-27 cannon
Missiles AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-132 ASRAAM,

The RAF Tornado F3 is a fighter/interceptor version of the Panavia Tornado in service with the Royal Air Force. It is a long ranged twin engine aircraft, originally designed to intercept Soviet bombers as they came in from the east to strike the United Kingdom. The Tornado Air Defence Variants (ADV) for the Royal Saudi Air Force are produced to the F3 standard.

In recent conflicts the Tornado F3 has been criticised for its lack of "true" fighter performance. In nearly all its deployments it has been held back by allied air controllers in favour of F-15/F-16 type aircraft. However to criticise the aircraft for this is to misunderstand the mission for which it was developed. The F3 was designed to fly and patrol far from base over the North Sea and Northern Atlantic and to intercept its targets at long range - not to have significant dogfighting capabilities.

It currently equips four squadrons of the RAF, Nos. 11, 25, 43 and 111 Squadrons. In the past, it also equipped another three squadrons, Nos. 5, 23 and 29 Squadrons. The type's Operational Conversion Unit is No. 56 (Reserve) Squadron. Each of the current squadrons has an established strength of 16 aircraft. There are also four aircraft permanently based in the Falkland Islands, in 1435 Flight. The OCU has an established strength of 20 aircraft. The F3 is based at RAF Leeming, RAF Leuchars, and RAF Mount Pleasant.

The Tornado F3 is an upgraded version of the original fighter version of the aircraft, the F2. The Tornado F2 originally first flew on March 5 1984. There were initial problems with the craft's AI-24 Foxhunter radar which led to concrete being used to fill the space where the radome would have gone. These aircraft were jokingly referred to as having a Blue Circle radar. Blue Circle is a British concrete manufacturing firm. 18 Tornado F2's were built, and they were used mostly in a training role until the radar problems were fixed, and then they were put into storage.

The Tornado F3 entered service in July 1986. 152 F3's were ordered, primarily to replace the Lightning F6 and Phantom FGR2. It made its combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War. 18 aircraft deployed to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. No air-to-air victories were scored, as the type was considered inferior to the F-15's of the United States Air Force, and thus flew patrols further back from Iraqi airspace where encounters with enemy aircraft were less likely. After 1991, combat operations continued as the no-fly zones over Iraq were patrolled. The Tornados operated over the south of the country, flying from Saudi Arabia under Operation Resinate South. On average, six aircraft were involved. These operations continued right up until 2003, when Iraq was invaded again. Operation Telic saw 14 F3's deployed to Saudi Arabia. Again, no air-to-air victories were scored, although the Iraqi Air Force flew no sorties at all during the campaign in 2003.

In 1997, the Italian Air Force leased 24 F3's from the RAF to fill their fighter numbers until the introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, such was the disappointment of the Italians with the Tornado, that they withdrew it from service in 2003, replacing it with 34 surplus F-16s leased from the USAF.

The F3's primary weapons when it entered service were the AIM-9 Sidewinder and Skyflash, a British upgrade of the American AIM-7 Sparrow missile.

Capability Sustainment Programme

Realising that the in its current form the F3 would not continue as an effective platform up to its planned out of service date of 2010, the UK Ministry of Defence initiated the Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP). This project, announced on March 5, 1996, included;

  • Integration of ASRAAM and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles
  • Radar upgrades to improve multi-target engagement
  • Improved pilot/navigator displays
  • New processor and weapon management computers.

The CSP would see the removal of a non-standard state of aircraft, various upgrades (notably to the Foxhunter radar) had lead to the situation described as "fleets within fleets." However the Foxhunter radar, having overcome many of the early difficulties, was to cause significant problems during the upgrade programme. This manifested itself when efforts were made to integrate the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile with the aircraft as a replacement for Skyflash. The radar had to be considerably modified to interface properly with the missile.

In what was criticised as shortsighted at the time the F3 would not exploit the full capabilities of the AMRAAM missile. AMRAAM uses two mid-course updates after launch to refresh target information prior to its own seeker taking over. The CSP, as announced, would not provide this capability. Despite becoming operational before 2002 the F3 force deployed on operations with the Skyflash, not AMRAAM, leading to suggestions that the decision not to fully integrate the missile made it no more effective than the original missile. In 2002 the MoD announced the F3 force would receive a further upgrade to allow these midcourse updates.

A further upgrade, undisclosed until early 2003, was the integration of the ALARM anti-radiation missile to allow suppression of enemy air defence missions. The F3's existing radar warning receivers formed the basis of an extremely effective Emitter Location System, which is used to locate radar antennae.

These upgrades are underway to evolve the F3 from a single role aircraft which are not cost effective in the post-Cold War world. This is due to the escalating cost of developing and maintaining aircraft, an excellent example of which is the spiralling cost of the F-35 even with its massive production run. Increasingly aircraft are expected to be multi-role, hence the emphasis now on the Typhoon's ground attack capabilites (which was designed as an air-superiority fighter) and the design of a small diameter bomb to fit into the weapons bay of the F-22.

Having been in service for 19 years, the replacement for the F3 is now on the horizon. Production of the Typhoon, its successor has started. The Operational Evaluation Unit for the Typhoon has formed, and the Operational Conversion Unit will form in 2004. 2005 sees the first squadron of Typhoons entering operational service, and by 2010, the Tornado F3 will be gone from RAF service.

Delivering Security in a Changing World is the UK's vision for the future of the armed forces, as part of this on July 21 2004 Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon detailed plans to reduce the number of F3 squadrons by one to three squadrons. This represents 16 aircraft and is the first stage in the transition to the Typhoon.

Template:RAF Tornado variants


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