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The Panavia Tornado ECR; RAF Fairford, July 22, 2002

The Panavia Tornado, part 3; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Panavia Tornado ECR is a specialized attack variant of the Tornado IDS. The aircraft features ECM equipment and is able to detect radar systems and is able to destroy it with the help of the AGM-88 HARM missile. The only Tornado users which fly the Tornado ECR are the German Luftwaffe and the Italian AMI.

Tornado ECR is a variant of the Tornado IDS and is specifically designed for so-called SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions. The acronym ECR stands for Electronic Combat Reconnaissance either electronic warfare. The only users of the Tornado ECR are Germany and Italy. The first versions of the Tornado ECR were delivered in May 1990. The ECR version of the Tornado was originally developed as a reconnaissance aircraft which could explore areas with high speed and at low altitude. Today, the Tornado ECR plays an equally important role as the original Tornado IDS variants. In addition to the task of the Tornado ECR the aircraft is also able to fly the conventional attack tactics on ground targets like the Tornado IDS does. The desire to build an aircraft of this class began in the 80s when the Cold War was in its highlight days. After a brief study of the Tornado IDS, it was chosen as the appropriate platform to take on this SEAD task. A redesign of the Tornado IDS was made and the aircraft was filled up with reconnaissance equipment. The new concept of the aircraft would be developed quickly into a more specialized variant of the Tornado. The increasing threat of increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft batteries of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries created the desire for a suitable aircraft to destroy quickly and effectively these installations.

The Tornado ECR would be a platform for electronic warfare in which the aircraft also would be able to eliminate the enemy air defenses directly. The Americans used two aircraft for this role; the Tornado ECR would take this task on its own. The Americans flew during the Vietnam War all these so called Wild Weasel missions. In the United States a specialized variant of the F-4 Phantom was used for these missions which tracked the enemy radars of the anti-aircraft batteries. When these plants were found, an attack aircraft would eliminate the enemy targets. The Tornado ECR was equipped with the ELS (Emitter Locator System) which was designed to detect radar installa-

tions. The Tornado ECR is next to this system equipped with the AGM-88 HARM missile. The HARM missile is designed to destroy radar installations. Besides this weapon the Tornado ECR is also equipped with comprehensive ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) equipment. The aircraft will be able to protect themselves during these dangerous missions against anti-aircraft batteries by jamming enemy radar and communications. The German Tornadoes were also equipped with the Honeywell infrared reconnaissance system, but this was already quite quickly removed because it turned out to be not practical to equip a plane for reconnaissance and SEAD simultaneously. The big difference between the Italian and German Tornado ECR is that Italians have no reconnaissance systems on board and the German did.

The Panavia Tornado IDS was the successor to the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter in 1984 in Germany and was used as a conventional bomber. From 1991, the conversion began to the ECR variant of the Tornado and the aircraft was given the role of electronic warfare and the reconnaissance role. The first German unit which received the Tornado ECR was JBG-38 which was stationed at Jever. The second staffel of JBG-38 started to fly the Tornado ECR and operated until 1995. The Tornado ECR aircraft were then assigned to JBG-32 at Lechfeld. JBG-32 is the only German unit which is currently active in the ECR role. All the German Air Force Tornado’s are therefore active in this unit. This version of the Tornado is specially designed to attack radar installations. The armament consists of the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radar Missile) missile. This missile was specially designed for use against radar installations. The German Tornado's were first deployed in Yugoslavia in July 1995. This was the first time since the Second World War that German aircraft were involved in air strikes. The Tornado’s of JBG-32 were then temporarily based at the Italian airbase Piacenza from where they flew their missions to Yugoslavia. The unit flew SEAD missions and conducted numerous of reconnaissance missions. On March 24, 1999, JBG-32 was again used, this time during the air attacks on Serbia during the NATO Operation Allied Force. During this war the Tornado ECR was used against radar targets and made use of the AGM-88 HARM missile. During this conflict, it was the first time the Tornado ECR was used in the role for which it was designed.

The second user of the Tornado ECR is the Italian Air Force. The Italians have converted 16 Tornado IDS aircraft to the ECR standard. The Tornado ECR was in Italy commissioned until in the mid-90s. Italy decided to purchase the Tornado ECR after the Gulf War in which various Italian Tornado IDS aircraft were lost. The threat of anti-aircraft guns was large and the country needed an aircraft which can find and destroy these kinds of installations. The delivery of the Tornado ECR was completed at the end of 1998. The Italian Tornado ECR aircraft are all stationed at Piacenza Air Base in the north of the country. The Italian Tornado’s of this type are assigned at this airbase to the 50° Stormo where they fly at the 155° Gruppo. The 50° Stormo is named after Giorgio Graffer who played an important role for the Italian Air Force. Giorgio Graffer (Trento, May 14, 1912 - Delvinaki, November 28, 1940) was an Italian officer and mountaineer. During the Second Word War he was a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. In November 1940 he was shot down by the British RAF. He was honored in Italy with the gold Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Italian Air Force. The 50° Stormo is the only unit in Italy which is flying the Tornado ECR. The aircraft of the unit can be identified by the code on the nose of the aircraft that begins with the number 50. In addition to the Tornado ECR, the unit also flies with some Tornado IDS aircraft for training. The Tornado ECR plays an important role in the Italian Air Force.




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