A version of this article appears in the July 7 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The reformation of II (Army Cooperation) Sqdn. at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland will not only round off the U.K.’s deployment plans but will also mark the moment that the RAF declares its Typhoon force a truly multirole asset.
It has probably taken longer than the RAF anticipated; the Typhoon has been in service now for 11 years. But the addition of Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E) capability on the Tranche 2 fleet should help pave the way for the Typhoon to take on more of the ground-attack mission currently held by the Panavia Tornado GR4 force, which is due to retire before the end of this decade.
The addition of the P1E delivers a ground-attack capability with the U.K.’s primary precision-guided weapon, thePaveway IV, along with a host of other improvements.
But if Typhoon is going to take on the role of the RAF’s big stick before the end of the decade, the GR4’s other weapons—such as thecruise missile and the Brimstone, direct-fire air-to-ground missile—also need to be integrated to ensure there are no gaps in the RAF’s strike capability.
“Tornado will be the mainstay of our ability to conduct long-range strategic strike using Storm Shadow,” says Air Vice Marshal Gary Waterfall, the former U.K. Typhoon Force Commander, in a recent interview with Aviation Week. Waterfall is now Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group.
“We have got until 2019, to [ensure] a correctly trained, configured and prepared force with Typhoon, with Storm Shadow and Brimstone to enable us to do that heavy lifting once it [Tornado] goes.
“I am convinced it is possible, [and] we are working with MBDA andto deliver it.”
“I need them [Storm Shadow and Brimstone] in 2018, as that gives me a 12-month period to enable us to replace the Tornado contribution,” adds Waterfall.
The Eurofighter consortia partners began Storm Shadow flight trials late last year, and in mid-June was awarded a £5 million ($8.5 million) contract to study how the Brimstone II could be integrated, a program that aims to create a common launcher system that could also drop the future Selective Precision Effects at Range (Spear) 3 networked precision-guided weapon, which the defense ministry is also said to be considering. Currently, Spear III is slated only for the .
But integration of new weapons is both complex and expensive. New weapon shapes require changes to the aircraft flight-control and armament systems.
Anything we can do to replicate the size and fit of an original pod makes the integration process much cheaper, explains Waterfall.
Raytheon is working on a series of upgrades and new capabilities for Paveway IV that follow this rule. The company is introducing a new low-collateral damage warhead and penetrator capability that does not affect the weapon weight or its aerodynamics.
Typhoon already has proved itself to be effective when it comes to ground attacks. Over Libya, modified Tranche 1 aircraft were able to drop the 1,000-lb. GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb on targets, mitigating some of the risk of collateral damage. With the addition of Paveway IV however, Typhoon will be able to drop munitions on targets in high-risk settings such as urban areas, because pilots will be able to set the weapon to explode above or beneath a target or hit it at a set arrival angle.
“This is the dawning of a precision-attack capability for Typhoon,” adds Waterfall.
Approximately a dozen Typhoons are now flying with the P1E software, and the RAF plans to test the capability early next year with a deployment to the Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
The RAF has now taken delivery of most of its Tranche 2 Typhoons and is getting ready to accept the first Tranche 3 aircraft, the first of which rolled off the BAE Systems production line at Warton, Lancashire, late last year. But the RAF is in no hurry to receive the Tranche 3 aircraft, especially as these, along with the Tranche 2 fleet will become the mainstay of the Typhoon fleet until the current planned out-of-service date of 2030.
The Tranche 3 Typhoon, the first example of which was flown by BAE Systems in December 2013, features increased avionics computing and electrical power and capacity, fuel-dump capability and provisions for an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
“We have to wait for the formal clearances to fly, but there are finite resources do that,” says Waterfall.
“I have to think what else could I clear with those resources, and I want to make sure I can deliver on my multi-role capability on Tranche 2,” he notes.
Early Tranche 1 aircraft, however, are unlikely to see service beyond 2020. While the aircraft have proved useful in testing out new capabilities for the Typhoon, the Tranche 1s are too structurally and technically different from the Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft to be worth retaining for the future.
“We are continually looking at the Tranche 1 fleet, and we haven’t gone down a one-way street from which there is no way back,” explains Waterfall.
“Tranche 1 proved everything before it goes onto Tranche 2, but that is going to swap around in 2015 or 16, when we will stop investing in Tranche 1 and put everything on to Tranche 2 and 3.
“Tranche 1 does not feature in those plans once we get toward the end of this decade,” he emphasizes.
The Tranche 1s are instead likely to act as parts donors to help sustain the life of the Tranche 2 and 3 fleets. That recycling has made aircraft like the Tranche 3 jets more affordable for the RAF.
The consortia consider AESA, or e-scan radar as it better known it Europe, to be a key component. Eurofighter remains hopeful of achieving an agreement on the e-scan radar between the partner nations—Germany, Italy and Spain—during the summer. The RAF sees the radar as critical to keeping the aircraft relevant during the 2020s. Recent defense ministry documents, which are related to its major projects portfolio, cite that a radar will provide “full exploitation of Meteor,” the MBDA-developed long-range air-to-air missile but also list an “electronic attack”capability.
In the 2020s, the Typhoon and the F-35B Lightning II will form the backbone of the RAF’s front-line fighter force and the two are likely to be paired on operations. The RAF is now exploring how they could best be used together. RAF Typhoons and U.S. Air Force Raptors have already worked closely with each other during the Red Flag exercises, giving RAF commanders an idea how fourth- and fifth-generation fighters could be paired while simulation work is being carried out at the U.K.’s Air Warfare Center at RAF Waddington.
Simulation is also being used to help cut the cost of the aircraft’s operation. Commanders believe greater use of synthetic training will allow it to more efficiently utilize its limited training time and flying hours as it faces airspace constraints, high operational costs and the need to learn how to fly in large-scale operations.
“We have been going through a revolution in synthetic training and realizing that if we want to be good at our game, then a lot of the time we are going to derive the most benefit from flying in the simulator than in the air.
“To go out and employ the large formations that we need in order to train is becoming more difficult as the aircraft and missiles become increasingly complex and demand increasing amounts of airspace to train effectively, which is why we are exporting that training into the synthetic domain.”
Currently, front-line Typhoon squadrons receive about 25% of their training in the simulator, compared with the more favorable 65% by the Typhoon operational conversion unit, 29 Sqdn. But the force wants the front-line numbers closer to that of the U.K. F-35 force’s, which is expected to have a 50:50 ratio of flying hours to simulator hours for pilots when the type is introduced in the coming years.
As part of this investment, the force is looking to expand its number of simulators. Currently there are four Typhoon-related simulators at Coningsby and two at Leuchars, Scotland. The Scotland-based ones will move to Lossiemouth in the near future because Leuchars is being restructured as a British Army base this year. All four simulators at Coningsby can be linked. The plan is to install four more simulators—two in Scotland and two at Coningsby—with the four already in place, and link them all so joint training can be carried out from both bases.
The U.K. has a clear plan for its Typhoon fleet, and fellow partner Italy is increasingly seeing the potential for Typhoon as a ground-attack platform.
“We are on a journey with Typhoon that is not going to finish until the 2020s, and even then we won’t look back and rest on our laurels in 2023 and say, ‘look at that great aircraft, it’s all finished now.’
“I’d be surprised if it wasn’t still in service beyond 2030,” says Waterfall.