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 underway 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 purposes
BAE declines to comment on the current flight test activity, which is being conducted as part of the wide-ranging Al Yamamah arms deal between the Saudi and UK governments. However, a UK source close to the negotiations confirms that the more than 250km (135nm)-range Storm Shadow is “among a number of systems” now being evaluated for possible integration as part of the Royal Saudi Air Force’s Tornado upgrade.
Saudi Arabia is meanwhile expected to sign a deal with the UK government around mid-year to acquire its planned fleet of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons, with these to replace the air force’s Tornado air defence variant platforms.