BAE Systems appears to have reached an advanced stage in its programme to upgrade the capabilities of Saudi Arabia's Panavia Tornado interdictor strike aircraft, with flight testing now under way of a trials aircraft carrying MBDA's Storm Shadow cruise missile.

Tornado Sustainment Programme aircraft ZH917 is pictured at BAE's Warton site in Lancashire on 2 April carrying two Storm Shadow rounds, including one painted in high-visibility markings for possible test release.

© Nathan Daws   
The high-visibility Storm Shadow missile is prominent on the Tornado BAE is upgrading for Saudi Arabia

BAE declines to comment on the flight-test activity, being conducted as part of the Al Yamamah arms deal between the Saudi and UK governments. However, a UK source close to the negotiations confirms the more than 250km (135nm)-range Storm Shadow is "among a number of systems" under evaluation.

Saudi Arabia is also expected to sign a deal with the UK around mid-year to acquire its planned fleet of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons to replace the air force's Tornado air defence variant platforms.

Source: Flight International