In 1965 Great Britain and France decided on the collaborative development of a modern fighter aircraft with variable wing geometry, but as France withdrew in July 1967, Great Britain was forced to look for new international partners to realize the project. In the same year NATO representatives from Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada discussed the co-operative development of a new “unity-fighter-aircraft”.
The participating nations founded a joint working group (JWG) in January 1968, which was also later joined by Great Britain. The first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), defining the Concept Phase was signed on 17th July 1968 by representatives of Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherland and Canada. The working title of the project was MRCA 75 (Multi Role Combat Aircraft 1975) focused on a twin engine double seated aircraft with variable wing geometry.
Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands withdrew from the project in October 1968, after the feasibility study had been commenced. In the meantime, the three nations, Germany, Great Britain and Italy decided to create a dedicated company, Panavia Aircraft GmbH, which was constituted on 26th March 1969 and based in Munich, Germany.
The new consortium had the responsibility of managing the design and development of the weapon system, with the physical production and development of the prototypes carried out at the principle sites of the aerospace companies which were partners in Panavia, more specifically FIAT Aviazione (now Leonardo), British Aircraft Corporation (now BAE Systems) and MBB (now Airbus Defence and Space).
The design phase of the Tornado project was characterised by the search for the optimal solution, taking into consideration the various requirements of the three armed forces. With the “roll out” of the first production aircraft at Warton on 5th June 1979, the final production phase of the programme commenced, subdivided according to National requirements between the three principal facilities of the industries which formed the Panavia consortium, specifically the Warton/Preston facility of the British Aircraft Corporation, the Manching/Augsburg plants for MBB and Turin/Caselle for Aeritalia.