The Royal Air Force is continuing to upgrade its Panavia Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft despite the looming retirement of the type from operational service.

At Farnborough the RAF announced all eight of its Tornados operating in Afghanistan have undergone enhancements as part of a programme known as capability upgrade strategy (pilot) or CUS-P.

The modification adds secure communications systems, a tactical data link and the ability to carry Raytheon's Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, says Air Cdre Dave Waddington, the RAF's Tornado force commander.

He says the upgrades allow for more precise strikes and improved verbal communication over secure networks.

"The future of our combat air is the [Eurofighter] Typhoon and the [Lockheed Martin] F-35," Waddington says. "But [the Tornado] remains important to the fleet. This [upgrade] ensures the Tornado is relevant."

An initial six aircraft received the upgrades in 2013, and the service expects to have modified 59 Tornados by March 2016.

Waddington says that will be sufficient to sustain the fleet through early 2019, when the RAF's Tornados are scheduled to retire.

Flightglobal's MIliCAS database lists 94 of of the ground-attack type in the service's active inventory.

Source: Flight Daily News