UK Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4s are to receive a continuous series of modifications to maintain capability until the strike fighter's planned out-of-service date of around 2018.

BAE Systems, a Panavia partner company, handed over earlier this month the last Tornado to be upgraded to GR4 standard and is preparing for the combined maintenance and upgrade (CMU) programme.

Mark Greenhaigh, BAE customer solutions and support director strike operations, says a "rolling set of upgrades continue at the main operating bases on a planned and opportunity basis". He adds that a continual modification programme is "key" as the RAF cannot have a large number of aircraft out of service being modified.

The GR4 programme upgrades the avionics - including a new main computer - and improves capability. BAE is also under contract to introduce new software, written in Ada rather than a legacy language; incorporate the MBDA Brimstone missile; double Storm Shadow carriage to four missiles; add Successor IFF transponders; and improve the cockpit displays.

Potential upgrades include tactical datalink; a collision warning system required for operations in civil controlled airspace; a revamped defensive warning suite; and further improvements to the main computer. Greenhaigh says the tactical datalink could be an improved data modem or a Link 16 system as the RAF requirement would need both systems.

BAE has a contract that expires in the second half of this year to prove CMU on threeGR4s. Greenhaigh says CMU takes "best practice from our hangars and takes it to the main operating bases". It will allow incremental upgrades of the aircraft to be implemented as part of the fighter's scheduled maintenance programme.

Source: Flight International