Originally a development from the Panavia Tornado GR1 (Air Defence Variant), the Tornado F3 was introduced as a twin-engine, long-range interceptor aircraft used by British RAF.
The Tornado F3 made its maiden flight on 20 November 1985, and its made combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War with 18 aircraft deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. After 1991 combat operations continued as the southern no-fly zones over Iraq were patrolled. The Tornados flew from Saudi Arabia under Operation Bolton, Operation Resinate South and 2003 Operation Telic.
The F3 is powered by the two Turbo Union RB199 turbofans, each of them is rated at a maximum thrust of 16,500 lbf (73.5 kN). One of the more notable features from a pilot’s perspective is the Tornado exceptional field of view from the cockpit, a feature that is vital during air-to-air combat. The F3 is capable of carrying four Skyflash semi-active missiles and four AIM-9L Sidewinder passive Infrared air-to-air missiles. After CSP (Capability Sustainment Programme) modification, the aircraft is further capable of replacing Skyflash with Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and Sidewinder with Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAM). The aircraft can also carry the Alarm missile and has a 27mm Mauser cannon on the starboard side of the airframe with a 180 round capacity. Either 1500 litre or 2250 litre external fuel tanks can be carried which, along with air refuelling, increases the aircraft’s endurance.
The Tornado F3 uses the BAE Systems Foxhunter multi-mode, track-while-scan, pulse doppler air-intercept radar to detect and target hostile aircraft. It can engage multiple targets simultaneously, and has an Integrated IFF and ground-mapping mode. The front cockpit has a hands-on-throttle-and-stick capability, together with a head-up display and an electronic head-down and threat-warning display. In the rear cockpit the weapons systems officer has two multi-function display screens with a threat-warning display and a radar control panel.
For defensive purposes, the aircraft’s radar homing and warning receiver enhances threat detection and the F3 is equipped with chaff dispensers and infrared decoy flares.
UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon detailed plans to reduce the number of Tornado F3 squadrons by one to three squadrons. This represented 16 aircraft and was the first stage in the transition to the F3’s replacement, the Eurofighter Typhoon, which entered operational service with the RAF in 2005.