The first German Tornado prototype made its first flight on 14 August 1974 from Manching airbase, in what was then West Germany. Deliveries of production Tornados began on 27 July 1979. The total number of Tornados delivered to the German Air Force numbered 247, including 35 ECR variants. Originally Tornados equipped five fighter-bomber wings (Geschwader), with one tactical conversion unit and four front line wings, replacing the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. When one of the two Tornado wings of the German Navy was disbanded in 1994, its aircraft were used to re-equip a Luftwaffe’s reconnaissance wing formerly equipped with RF-4E Phantoms.
As many as 15 German Tornados undertook combat operations as a part of NATO’s campaign during the Bosnian War; this was the first combat operation for the Luftwaffe since World War II. The Tornados, operating from Piacenza, Italy, flew reconnaissance missions to survey damage inflicted by previous strikes and to scout targets for other aircraft to strike. These reconnaissance missions were reportedly responsible for a significant improvement in target selection throughout the campaign.
In 1999, German and Italian Tornados participated in Operation Allied Force, NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. The ECR aircraft would escort various allies’ aircraft while carrying several AGM-88 HARM missiles to counter attempted use of radar against the allied aircraft. During the Kosovo hostilities, Germany’s IDS Tornados would routinely conduct reconnaissance flights to identify both enemy ground forces and civilian refugees within Yugoslavia.
In June 2007, a pair of Luftwaffe Tornado were controversially used to fly reconnaissance flights over an anti-globalisation demonstration during the 33rd G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Following the mission, the German Defence Ministry admitted one aircraft had broken the minimum flying altitude and that mistakes were made in the handling of security of the summit.
In 2007, a detachment of six Tornados of the Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 “Immelmann” (51st reconnaissance wing) were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan, to support NATO forces. The decision to send Tornados to Afghanistan was a controversial decision, including one political party launching an unsuccessful legal bid to block the deployment as unconstitutional. In support of the Afghanistan mission, improvements in the Tornado’s reconnaissance equipment were accelerated; improving the Tornado’s ability to detect hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The German Tornados were withdrawn from Afghanistan in November 2010.
Defence cuts announced in March 2003 resulted in the decision to retire 90 Tornados from Luftwaffe service. This led to a reduction in its Tornado strength to four wings by September 2005. On 13 January 2004, the then German Defence Minister Peter Struck announced further major changes to the German armed forces.
A major part of this announcement is the plan to cut the German fighter fleet from 426 in early 2004 to 265 by 2015. The German Tornado force is to be reduced to 85, with the type expected to remain in service with the Luftwaffe until 2025. The aircraft being retained have been undergoing a service life extension programme.
Currently, the Luftwaffe operates Tornados with Tactical Wings Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 in Cochem / Büchel Air Base, Rhineland-Palatinate and with Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 “Immelmann” in Jagel, Schleswig-Holstein. Aircrew training takes place at Fliegerisches Ausbildungszentrum der Luftwaffe, based on Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, US.
The end of the Cold War and the signing of the CFE Treaty gave rise to a requirement for Germany to reduce the size of its armed forces, including the number of combat aircraft. To meet this need, one of the Marineflieger’s Tornado wings was disbanded on 1 January 1994; its aircraft replaced the Phantoms of a Luftwaffe reconnaissance wing. The second wing was enlarged and continued in the anti-shipping, reconnaissance and anti-radar roles until it was disbanded in 2005 with its aircraft and duties passed on to the Luftwaffe.
The future of the Tornado in the Luftwaffe
With a growing realisation that it needs to think about modernising parts of its aging front-line force, the German Bundeswehr has released a White Paper on future plans and proposals. One of these, the Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS) is intended to replace the Tornado which the Luftwaffe may keep in service until 2040 – some 20 years after the RAF will have retired its last GR4.
Among the many and varied presentations covering A400M, MRTT, and light and medium products at the annual Airbus Defence and Space (AirbusDS) TMB (Trade Media Briefing) in Munich this year, also saw the company unveil its concept for a FCAS (Future Combat Air System) to meet the Luftwaffe‘s evolving requirement for the 2030-40 timeframe.
Though it is still early days and the concept is still notional, it did reveal some of the company’s thinking around its FCAS. Interestingly the twin-engine, twin-tail stealth design would be a twin-seat design, according to Alberto Gutierrez, Head of Eurofighter Programme, Airbus DS. The second crewmember may be especially important for the FCAS concept of operations, which would see it operate in a wider battle network, potentially as a command and control asset or UCAV/UAV mission commander.