The U.K. Royal Air Force (RAF) used its first deployment of Eurofighter Typhoons to Red Flag to conceptualize how it might use the fighter in conjunction with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
At the end of this decade, the RAF will start settling towards a two-type front-line fast jet force with the planned retirement of the Panavia Tornado GR4 in 2019, and the introduction of the F-35 from land-bases and carrier operations at around the same time, both the Typhoon and F-35 are likely to be working together for at least a decade and perhaps out to 2040, so commanders are keen to figure out how the two aircraft will be able to complement each other.
Photos: Tony Osborne - Aviation Week
In the lead up to the deployment to Red Flag 13-3 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, the Typhoons from the RAF’s 11 Squadron deployed to Langley AFB, Virginia for Exercise Western Zephyr, working closely with the USAF’s 27th Fighter Squadron, flying the F-22 Raptor.
“Both Typhoon and the Raptor both bring very different things to the fight, and very similar things to the fight in order to achieve the same aim. But there aren’t enough low-observable platforms, therefore we have to work together,” explained Wg Cdr Richard Wells, the commanding officer of 11 Sqn, speaking to Aviation Week.
“In an ideal world you would have all fifth generation fighters, but that’s not a very realistic and a very expensive option, in which case, what we have tried to maximize is a flexible approach and some of those aspects have been warmly received,” added Wells.
Western Zephyr allowed the Typhoons and their crews to quickly develop their partnership with the Raptors before both the 27th and 11 Sqn deployed to Nellis where they have worked together again to secure the skies for a mix of strike, attack and ISR assets.
With nine Tranche 1 jets deployed, the squadron had to have six aircraft available for each wave of missions, one in the afternoon and one at night with four jets providing air dominance and two providing swing-role capability with ground attack being the primary function before crews switch to the air-to-air role during egress.
“Red Flag is not an end of itself,” explained Grp. Capt. Johnny Stringer, the station commander of RAF Coningsby, one of the main operating bases of the RAF Typhoon.
“We are testing small pieces of the jet, how interoperable we are with key allies, how we operate in the contested environment, with an emphasis on capability and I am really heartened about where the jet is, where it will go in capability terms, great to be able to test that in practice rather than in abstract.”
“We have tended to play to the strengths of the aircraft, using its ability to get high and fast on the initial pushes,” said Wells.
“We don’t have tanker support assets with the probe and drogue system here, and there are few in the U.S. arsenal attending the exercise, but we are not limited. We have a lot of staying power and we are at the forefront, we are not an afterthought, the commanders know where they want to put the Typhoon.