Tornado GR4

In 1966 Britain, Germany and Italy agreed to develop the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) and the aircraft eventually entered service with the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment at RAF Cottesmore in July 1980.

The GR Mk1A was a dedicated reconnaissance variant with the two 27mm Mauser cannons deleted and replaced by three Vinten Linescan infra-red sensors. Nevertheless, the aircraft retained the capability to carry the full range of external stores and conduct offensive sorties. A total of 28 aircraft saw service, 12 were GR1 conversions and 16 were new built, with 2 and 13 Squadrons.

Currently the RAF operates approximately 24 specially equipped Tornado GR4A tactical reconnaissance aircraft from RAF Marham in Norfolk. The aircraft are split equally between two squadrons No II (AC) and XIII. The aircraft differ from the ordinary strike Tornado by the fitting of the Tornado Infra-Red Reconnaissance System (TIRRS). The TIRRS consists of three sensors, a recording facility and various cockpit controls and displays to accommodate the additional equipment both guns were removed from all the aircraft.

Tornado GR4 TREF Cabin

The primary sensor is the Infrared Linescanner (IRLS) fitted under the nose of the aircraft that gives horizon to horizon coverage. On either side of the nose are the Sideways-Looking Infrared (SLIR) sensors which ‘fill-in’ the picture provided by the IRLS. Six video tapes are fitted to the TIRRS, one primary tape for each sensor and one back-up.

On landing the tapes are analysed by the Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (RIC) which is attached to each squadron. The RIC’s are equipped with the Transportable Reconnaissance Exploitation Facility (TREF) which consists of three rugged ‘cabins’ linked together and mounted on standard 4-ton service lorries. The three TREF cabins contain all the equipment needed to analyse and distribute the information gathered by the TIRRS. Cabin One contains two workstations, the ‘Link Cabin’ contains the maintenance equipment and Cabin Three is the Management Cabin containing secure world-wide communications, including satellite communications.

In early 2005 it was reported that that funding for the IRLS system had been withdrawn from 1 Sep 04 and the system had been retired. The RAPTOR (Reconnaisance Pod for Tornado) will now be the main reconnaissance sensor carried by the Tornado GRA4s.