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Italian Tornado’s at Nörvenich; Nörvenich, March 10, 2016

Cooperation with TLG-31; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Italian Tornado ECR warplanes would practice at the German airbase Nörvenich in the week of March 7 until March 18, 2016. The Tornado ECR is a variant of the Tornado IDS and is specifically designed for the so-called SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions and is used by German and the Italian Air Force.

In the two weeks of March 7 until March 18, 2016, five Italian Tornado ECR fighters would operate from the German airbase Nörvenich. The aircraft were all assigned to the 50° Stormo which is based on the Italian airbase Ghedi in the north of the country. The Tornado’s will practice together with the EF2000 Eurofighters of the German Luftwaffe. The Tactische Luftwaffengeschwader 31 (Tactical Lufwaffe Squadron 31, TLG-31) "Boelcke" is stationed at Nörvenich. At this moment, the TLG-31 is stationed at two German airfields namely Nörvenich in western Germany and Wittmund in northern Germany. The Tornadoes at Nörvenich which participated in the joint exercise, were; the MM7019/50-05, the MM7021/50-01, the MM7052/50-02, the MM7047/50-43 and the MM7068/50-46. In the first week of the exercise the Tornado’s would fly only during the day light period. An average of four Tornado’s would leave per flight. Normally two flights a day are flown at Nörvenich; one flight in the morning and one flight in the afternoon. In the second week of the exercise the Tornado’s would also operate in the dark during the evening hours. During this stage of the exercise there is no Italian activity in the morning hours. The Tornado’s will leave during the sunset at the beginning of the evening. It is not the first time that the Italians practice at Nörvenich. In the past, the Italians of the 50° Stormo operated often from this German airbase. During the operations with the fighters, there is at Nörvenich always a SAR helicopter on standby of the type UH-1D Huey.

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. In addition to this desire also the development of anti-radar missiles gained a lot of progress in those days.

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 installations. 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. Also, the German Tornado’s have more power in the propulsion due to modern engines.

One of the users 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 purposes. The Tornado ECR plays an important role in Italy.

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