Howard Gethin/LONDON

The Royal Air Force is considering the introduction of hands on throttle and stick controls (HOTAS) for the Panavia Tornado GR4/4A strike aircraft as part of a rolling upgrade to extend the aircraft's service life until 2015.

The Ministry of Defence has also stated a possible future requirement for sticktop-mounted forward looking infrared, terrain following, air-to-air weapon and radio controls. The work will be carried out by British Aerospace at Warton. The rolling upgrade for the Tornado is part of a wider change from the traditional pattern of major mid-life updates, which the RAF sees as too liable to go over budget and prone to time overruns.

The in-service date for the upgraded GR4 slipped substantially and incurred significant cost growth, after which the intended mid-life update was simplified to a reduced standard known as MLU93. Even with the reduction in requirement, the upgrade programme is still costing £460 million ($750 million).

The service sees the recent item-by-item modernisation of the Sepecat Jaguar, with global positioning system navigation, Have Quick, TERPROM, secure radios and laser designating capability with helmet mounted sight, as a better model for its future upgrade programme, a view echoed recently by Air Chief Marshal Sir John Allison, commander-in-chief RAF Strike Command.

The air force is unlikely to introduce unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) into service in the next generation of aircraft, according to Allison.

"UCAVs have been proposed as an option for the future offensive air system [FOAS] to replace the Tornado, but I doubt it," he says.

A gradual approach to a fully unmanned system is likely in the generation after the FOAS, with suppression of enemy air defences a possible role, Allison says.

Source: Flight International