Looking back on how Leonardo has helped protect the Royal Air Force Tornado and its crews
It all started with the Radar Warning Equipment on-board the Tornado GR.1. Perhaps foreshadowing the Anglo-Italian character of today’s company, the very first equipment that Leonardo developed for Tornado was actually a collaboration between the company in the UK (at the time known as Marconi Space and Defence Systems) and Italy’s Elettronica. However, with electronic countermeasures considered of special national importance, it was Marconi alone which went on to develop the RAF Tornado’s self-protection jammer, being contracted in 1972 to provide a pod that could defend the aircraft from lethal Soviet surface-to-air missile systems. In 1978, that pod was formally named ‘Skyshadow’ and in 1981 Leonardo commenced deliveries, for the first time providing Tornado with a way to delay radar acquisition or, in concert with chaff and flares, break a radar lock.
By the time Skyshadow was being delivered, Leonardo’s engineers in Stanmore had already been working for years in parallel to develop the next generation of the original Radar Warning Equipment. The resulting Radar Homing and Warning Receiver (RHWR), which was installed on the Tornado GR.1, used clever signal processing techniques to improve the handling of multiple threats and provide more accurate threat clarification, capabilities that were well-received by Tornado crews.
What the Tornado means to some of the people at Leonardo who flew and worked on the aircraft
"The Tornado GR1/4 was more than a piece of metal, she was part of your life, often part your own family’s life too. I will remember the jet as our ‘warhorse’, a bond formed from a young age, a life companion, a dependable combatant, a thoroughbred. I’m proud to have flown the aircraft and served with such a superb team."
VP Marketing & Sales – EW
"I joined Leonardo (then GEC-Marconi) when I graduated in 1975 and was soon involved in the system design for the Tornado Radar Homing and Warning Receiver which alerts the aircrew to potential incoming threats. I have gone on to lead the amazingly talented team who designed the receiver and took the unit through to production. Over the years, Tornado crews would tell us how the receiver helped save their lives and give them a combat advantage. It’s been a tremendous honour to help the RAF and our country with my small contribution."
Technical Fellow and Hardware Technical Consultant
"I am proud to have been involved with the Tornado Defensive Aids equipment since I joined the company (then called GEC Marconi) in 1980. I met my husband whilst assessing the reliability and maintainability of the SR(A)907 upgrade. When walking on the Scottish mountains, we have often been privileged to see the Tornado flying past, which is always an impressive experience."
Lead Supportability Engineer
"In the early 1980s I was a principal engineer, working on the Tornado’s Radar and Homing and Warning Receiver. It was a very exciting project to be involved with as our improving technology provided device programmability, which packed much more functionality and versatility into the same size payload; giving the aircraft’s crew significantly increased protection."
Special Projects Manager
"The Tornado was a fantastically capable aircraft which was asked to undertake a number of different roles during its lifetime. I was lucky enough to fly the Tornado at a time when there was a huge increase in its capability and the number of different missions that it could perform. I am especially proud to have been so closely involved with the introduction to service of the BriteCloud decoy on the Tornado in 2018."
Head of Strategic Campaigns – EW
"Starting work as an apprentice in 1976, the first real project I worked on was the electronic countermeasures pod for Tornado GR1, subsequently known as Sky Shadow. I’ve since had involvement in all the subsequent variants of Sky Shadow up to and including the final variant. Looking back, I feel proud to have contributed to the protection of the Tornado aircraft and crew over the course of my career which has coincided with the Tornado’s service life."
Lead Hardware Engineer
By the mid-1980s, it was clear to the RAF that a complete upgrade of the Tornado’s protective systems would be needed if it was going to stand up to increasingly high-tech threats in theatre. In 1988, Leonardo (now called Marconi Defence Systems) was awarded the contract for ‘project Thor’, which entailed upgrading both the RHWR and Skyshadow equipment. Leonardo project teams subsequently worked alongside the RAF to develop combinations of jamming, chaff and manoeuvres that kept these systems effective throughout the 1990s.
The Falklands conflict saw the first operational use by the Royal Air Force of laser-guided bombs which relied on a forward air controller using a ground designator. It was soon apparent that an airborne system was required. In the late 1980s, Leonardo’s thermal imaging business (then GEC Ferranti Defence Systems) started the development of the Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator targeting (TIALD) pod. The pod was manufactured by Leonardo (GEC Marconi) in Basildon in the 1990s and was first used by the Tornado in the first Gulf War.
Following the Gulf War, development of protection against threat radar systems slowed as the Tornado was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and InfraRed (IR) threats posed the most pressing concern to crews. However, in 2011, operations in Libya drew attention back to the now-formidable radar-guided RF (Radio Frequency) systems which posed a real threat to freedom of operation. Leonardo’s electronic warfare business (then known as Selex ES and based in Luton) was asked to evaluate the Skyshadow to make it fit-for-purpose to protect against modern threats, leading to the development of the Common Jamming Pod.
Of course the story didn’t end there. Threat technology continued to evolve, and advanced enemy radar systems started to be able to outwit traditional chaff countermeasures. With this growing threat in mind, Leonardo’s engineers began working with the UK MOD to develop the next generation of expendable decoy, looking beyond clouds of aluminium foil to the latest digital jamming techniques. The result was BriteCloud, a world-first technology which packs a digital RF jammer into a package the size of a drinks can, fitting into a standard 55mm dispenser.
An accelerated development and testing programme, in partnership with the RAF’s new Rapid Capabilities Office, saw BriteCloud go into service in early 2018. The RAF’s Tornado GR.4 was the first aircraft in the world to go on operations with this new protective technology, a proud moment for the electronic warfare team at Leonardo and the latest in a long line of firsts for one of the UK's genuinely historic aircraft.