BAE Systems has been awarded a £210 million ($415 million) contract to perform a two-phase modernisation programme on the UK Royal Air Force's Panavia Tornado GR4/4A strike aircraft.

The Tornado capability upgrade strategy (pilot), or CUSP, deal was signed on 21 December 2007. BAE says initial work will cover the "design, integration and embodiment of an upgraded secure communications system onto the Tornado GR4" and integration of Raytheon Systems' Paveway IV precision-guided bomb. The 226kg (500lb) laser/GPS-guided weapon is expected to enter a new certification programme in mid-year, after trials conducted during 2007 ended with two of the 12 test drops having ended in failure due to a fuzing issue.

 Tornado GR4 APG
© APG Photography/AirSpace

Subsequent Phase B activities will introduce a new tactical datalink capability to the Tornado, which first entered RAF use in 1982 in the GR1 configuration. "The [CUSP] programme will significantly enhance the platform's capability and sustain its position as platform of choice for offensive air operations well into the future," says BAE.

The new award follows BAE's receipt late last year of a $324 million contract to provide expanded in-service support for the RAF's approximately 106 Tornado GR4s at Marham, Norfolk, under its now £1.3 billion Availability Transformation: Tornado Aircraft Contract deal. The CUSP modifications will be made using the existing combined maintenance and upgrade line at the site, says BAE.

RAF Tornados are currently deployed to the Gulf region to provide support for US-led operations in Iraq, with a GR4 having used Enhanced Paveway II bombs on a building containing enemy combatants in Baqubah on 6 January.