Introduction: The Tornado F.2A is an aircraft which is often forgotten when talking about British aircraft. Despite this, it has an interesting backstory that cements itself in British aviation as the rather important link between previous concepts and the Tornado F.3, which would serve the RAF valiantly for nearly three decades.
Background: Ever since the dawn of aviation, nations have all strived to acquire the ultimate interceptor, and the UK was no different. The British had designed and built a number of great interceptors, from the Spitfire to the Lightning. These two aircraft had one thing in common, they were intended to be used as point-defence interceptors, meaning that they would take-off from a base, and climb rapidly to intercept the oncoming enemy raid. By the middle of the Cold War, however, with the advent of cruise missiles and the refocusing onto the North Atlantic, the Royal Airforce realised that a patrol interceptor was necessary, to intercept marauding Soviet bombers in the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap, in order to prevent them from striking targets within the UK and Northern Europe, as well as protecting shipping in the North Atlantic. In addition to this, it was also deemed necessary for the aircraft to be able to operate from shorter runways of less than ideal quality in order to give the aircraft a wide array of dispersal sites from which it could operate if the major airbases were to be attacked.
History: The UK had previously attempted to make such an aircraft before. There were various studies undertaken in the 50’s to convert the Canberra into a fighter, and the Javelin could count as a long range interceptor to some extent. In addition, English Electric produced a slimmed down version of their P.10 supersonic reconnaissance-bomber, and BAC studied a conversion of the TSR.2 into a fighter, and in the early Seventies, a conversion of the Vulcan was looked into using either Sea Dart or Phoenix, but to mention a few; most of the major design bureaus in the UK took part in studying a long-range interceptor at some point or another. None of these ever saw the light of day. By the 70’s, it became clear that the Lightning, though a highly capable jet, was not suited for the threats which were emerging at that time. Whilst the Phantom was an improvement, it was worried that it would not be capable of dealing with future threats. At this point, it was decided to study the various types being developed at the time in order to decide which was best. The types examined were: the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, General Dynamics YF-16, Northrop YF-17, Dassault ACF, and the Panavia MRCA ADV. The YF-16 and YF-17 were quickly discarded as they lacked the range. The ACF, though seemingly a capable aircraft, was highly expensive, and because of this, it was in a precarious position with the French Government, which was debating its cancellation at this time. Whilst the offer of a French order of the Tornado IDS to replace the Mirage IV, seemed tempting to the Air Staff, they had been burned by the French before. Just a few years previously, the two nations entered into an agreement into which it was decided that both nation would procure the Jaguar and the AFVG, the latter being the predecessor to the Tornado. After the UK ordered the Jaguar, the French quickly pulled out of the AFVG programme, citing disagreements over the requirements and costs, and used the technical information to build the Mirage G series. These would eventually be cancelled, but their work would lead to the ACF. The Air Staff decided not to continue with this aircraft, in order to prevent a repeat of what had happened a few years previously. This meant a shift towards the US. The UK had already previously gone shopping in the US in the 60’s, from which they would emerge with the Hercules and Phantom, the latter of which they got to modify and build in the UK. It was proposed that they would be able to do the same with the F-14 or F-15.
However, there were issues. Starting with the F-14, whilst being highly advanced, and offering short take-off and landing performance, it was known to be a hassle to maintain, and it would be an expensive purchase. The F-15 was also a highly capable aircraft, being highly maneuverable with a good radar system, and the Air Staff and McDonnell Douglas had previously worked together on the Phantoms, so it was hoped a similar deal could be worked out. However, the main combat variant was a single-seater, whilst the Air Staff wished for a twin-seat aircraft, in order to reduce the workload on the pilot, and it was found that the F-15B, the twin-seat variant, still did not meet the requirement in full. In addition to this, the aircraft would have required a redesigned IFR receiver, as the receptacle for the flying boom system operated by the USAF was not compatible with the probe-and-drogue used by the RAF. Despite being extremely capable aircraft, neither the F-14 nor F-15 met the requirement in full. Neither had the range, which would have placed additional strain onto the RAF’s tanker fleet, which would have posed problems for the ageing Victors, and would have put additional strain on the VC-10s. Apart from this, both aircraft would have required extensive revisions to airbase infrastructure. In addition, procuring a foreign aircraft would jeopardise UK industry as if the contract went outside the UK, engineers would have been laid off at the design offices, which would have had long term effects on Britain’s ability to design advanced combat aircraft in the future. At this point, the groundwork for what would eventually become the Eurofighter Typhoon was already being laid. Whilst both Grumman and McDonnell Douglas offered local production, it was deemed that modifying both aircraft to carry British equipment was not worth the expense or effort, meaning that British industries would have been sidelined further. This was not deemed acceptable, due to the needs of keeping design and construction experience within Britain in order to support future projects. To modify them would have essentially required redesigning the aircraft entirely, or at least, heavily modifying them, which would end up increasing both purchase and maintenance costs, due to the differences which they would have with the “standard” aircraft, much like with what happened with the Phantoms. The Air Staff was also worried that the two “heavyweight” types would have their production runs reduced or even stopped in favour of the YF-16 and YF-17, both of which did not meet the requirement, which represented a prospect the Air Staff was not favourable with.
This left the MRCA ADV, which was the only proposal which fit the requirements in full. There have been many criticisms of the Tornado ADV, as it became known, due to it not being as maneuverable as its contemporaries, and that it would have made more sense to go with an American design. However, due to the reasons above regarding industrial, economic, and strategic reasons, the decision is arguable the right one. The affects of not procuring the British designed aircraft would have had a huge affect on the subsequent EFA program, which would ultimately lead to the Typhoon. The Tornado ADV was designed for the express purpose of destroying Soviet bombers at standoff ranges, before they would be able to launch cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles at friendly targets. It was not meant to be a dogfighter or a brawler, it was meant to be a sniper. The Tornado F.2 would enter service with the RAF in 1985, before its radar was ready, which was rather common on British aircraft. In order to preserve the CoG, a system called Blue Circle (a concrete ballast), was added, the name coming from a famous British cement company, as well as being a play on the old Ministry of Supply naming convention. The AI.24 radar set was not delivered in time due to delays, having been the most advanced radar set being developed in the UK for nearly 20 years, the last one being the AI.23 AIRPASS made for the English Electric Lightning. It was planned to convert the F.2s into F.2As, by giving them the radar and FCS, thus bringing them in line with the F.3 service variant. However, this never occurred due to costs, and only one F.2A was ever made. The differences between the F.2 and F.3 are mostly internal, mainly differing in the addition of the radar, different variants of the RB.199 (the F.3 featuring a more powerful variant), and the F.2 only being able to carry two Sidewinders, whereas the F.2 could carry four. Most of the F.2s were reduced to spares to support the F.3s, or were used as ground trainers, with ZD902 being converted into the TIARA, serving its days out as a test aircraft.
Length: 18.62 m
Wingspan (wings fully forwards): 13.91 m
Height: 6.3 m
Engines: 2 x Turbo-Union RB199 Mk.103
Never exceed speed: 800 kts
Maximum normal acceleration: 7.5 g
Empty weight 14,231 kg
Max takeoff weight: 26,600 lb
1x Mauser BK-27 cannon
2x AIM-9L Sidewinder
4x Skyflash TEMP
Performance taken from:
Conclusion: I think this would be a good addition to the tech tree after the Phantom FGR.2, thus filling the gap between it and any future type, whether it may be the TIARA or a Typhoon. With the addition of ARH missiles, the addition of the Typhoon may be nearer than many of us may have anticipated, which makes filling this gap even more important, if there is to be a streamlined transition from Rank VII to Rank VIII and potentially, Rank IX.
“Battle Flight: RAF Air Defence Projects and Weapons Since 1945” by Chris Gibson
AP101B-4102-15 Tornado F.2A/F.3 Aircrew Manual
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