Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Typhoon's present and future

The Typhoon’s future

Farnborough brought forth a much celebrated agreement between UK, Germany, Italy and Spain for the go ahead to the next phases of the Eurofighter Typhoon’s enhancement programme. Good news, undoubtedly, but is it really something worth celebrations?

Sadly, looking into the details, the situation isn’t properly one which inspires pulling out champagne bottles from the fridge. In fact, the Typhoon evolution is finally about to move one step onwards, but seems to have effectively been slowed again for other aspects, and it continues to be hampered by lack of money and unity of intents and action between the four partner nations.

There is, however, a ray of hope as I’ll explain in this article. Please bear with me as we delve in a world made of Tranches, Blocks, Software Releases, Change Proposals and countless other confusing elements.  

Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E)

The thick of the Typhoon fleets in Europe currently is made up by Tranche 1 Typhoons with a very limited air to ground capability.
The Tranche 1 Typhoons were initially delivered with Basic Air Defence capability (Block 1), then came the Block 2 and 2B with more complete AA capabilities, and finally the Block 5, which introduced some air to ground strike capability. All Tranche 1 Typhoons are being upgraded to Block 5 standards under the R2 retrofit program.

Block 5 Typhoons, known in the RAF as FGR4, (Fighter/Ground attack/Reconnaissance) come with the capability of employing laser guided ammunition (Paveway II for the UK, GBU-10 and GBU-16 for the other partner nations), but only with laser designation provided by a third party (either a land-based designator or a pod installed on another aircraft, much like the Tornado GR1 in the Gulf War, which launched paveways on laser designations made by the old Buccaneers!

This same level of capability is provided by the Block 8 airplanes, part of the Tranche 2 order.

The sole Royal Air Force in 2006 launched an urgent national initiative for fitting Tranche 1 Typhoons with a better “austere land attack” capability, as a replacement for the Jaguar airplane and as a step in preparing the Typhoon for an anticipated deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. The deployment actually never happened, but the initiative became a £73m deal signed on 20 July 2006. Known as Change Proposal 193 (CP193) within the Typhoon program logs, this modification gave the Typhoon Tranche 1 Block 5 of the RAF the capability to employ the Litening III laser designation pod, removing the need for third-part designation. It also enabled carriage of the Enhanced Paveway II, which adds GPS to the laser seeker so to enable all-weather attack capability.

Good work was made on the Litening III integration, which incorporates a ROVER 3 (remotely-operated video enhanced receiver) air-to-surface secure full-motion video data link, which allows pictures and data to be transmitted from the Litening pod directly to a forward air controller on the ground via a laptop-type terminal, with minimal lag or latency. This enhances close air support effectiveness by improving target identification and minimising miscommunication. ROVER also provides a limited real-time reconnaissance capability, since Litening III can record still imagery as well, “taking photos” like a recce pod. The system is also compatible with the later Rover 4 and Rover 5, and with the Rockwell ‘StrikeHawk’ Miniature Tactical
Video Downlink Receiver adopted by the British Army’s Fire Support Teams.

In 2007, finally, the other partner nations joined in the Air to Ground development effort with Change Proposal 210, which basically introduces in all nations the capabilities the RAF added with CP193. The agreement came too late to have this capability included in the Tranche 2 Block 8 airplanes, so that, while they incorporate over 400 improvements, the current Tranche 2 Typhoons have less air ground usefulness than Tranche 1 Block 5.

The Phase 1 Enhancement contract, born from CP210, was finally signed on 30 March 2007.
Improvements will be delivered in two incremental software releases: P1EA will come with the SRP10 software  while P1EB will come with the SRP12 software.

Test activities began on 24th October 2008, using the Alenia-owned IPA5 development airplane to start flight trials with the 500-lb Paveway IV.
It was then joined in 2009 by IPA-7, owned by Germany’s Cassidian, which flew handling trials with the Paveway IV bombs loaded and the new P1EA Missile Warner system installed.
Spain’s IPA-4 airplane flew with the 1000 pounds EGBU-16 between February and April 2009, and made five drops of the bomb, and finally, from 18 june 2009, BAE’s IPA-1 began drop trials of Paveway IV, making 15 bomb drops over the Irish Sea. In February 2011 there was the first guided launch of Paveway IV, and in early 2012 the final demonstration, validating in full the self-designation capability and employment of Paveway IV in all its modes, was started.

[NOTE: IPA stands for Instrumented Production Aircraft. These are five production standard aircraft plus 2 converted Series Production aircrafts fitted with telemetry instruments for dedicated flight testing and further systems development. They are owned and operated by the various companies part of the Eurofighter team:

BAE has the IPA1, IPA5 and IPA6.
Alenia (Italy) has the IPA2
EADS (Germany) has the IPA3 and IPA7
EADS Casa (Spain) has the IPA4

IPA6 is a Typhoon Tranche 1 standard (BS031), taken up from the RAF order and fitted with Tranche 2 avionics for testing prior to Tranche 2 deliveries to the air forces.

There are also 6 DA Typhoons (Development Airplanes), some of which have now been assigned to museums, while others remain in use for testing. One DA airplane, Spain’s one, was lost to an engine failure in 2002.]

As of now, P1EA flight testing is complete, and the NETMA agency is going to give its documentation to the partner nations, which will then complete their own process for clearance and entry into service.

According to Eurofighter, P1EA introduces the following improvements:

-          Integration of Paveway IV and EGBU-16
-          Dedicate Air-Ground mode for the 27 mm gun control software
-          More mature integration of the laser designation pod
-          Expanded communications fit, new radios
-          IFF mode 5 upgrade
-          Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) enhancements
-          New Differential GPS navigation system
-          Complete digital integration of IRIS-T short range air to air missile

The more mature integration of the laser pod comes down mainly to enabling it to work at wider angles than those cleared with CP193.
The IRIS-T so far was not completely integrated. To the UK this is of little interest, since it uses ASRAAM, and this was fully integrated already in Tranche 1 Block 5.

P1EA also includes unspecified improvements to a range of systems including Rover terminal integration (to share imagery from the targeting pod with air attack controllers on the ground equipped with the Rover laptop), IFF, Forward Looking Infra Red FLIR, Chaff/Flare and DASS self-protection system, with improved accuracy of threat detection and enhanced countermeasures technologies.

SRP 10 software will also allow up to six non-sequential or four simultaneous surface strikes in a single pass.

P1EA will finally hit service in the first quarter of 2013, if all goes according to plan. By September, the RAF expects the Paveway IV bomb to finally be operational on the Typhoon.

The P1EB software will add new display formats for the air-to-ground role, significantly improving the Human Machine Interface (HMI), minimising the pilot’s workload in the most complex scenarios and facilitating simultaneous swing-role operations by allowing a pilot to continue a bomb run while at the same time fighting off air attacks. Pilot workload will be further reduced by expanded and enhanced Data Link 16 / Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) functionality, with much greater data transmission capacity.

There will also be a two-stage delivery of Direct Voice Input upgrades, with the first package of enhancements increasing the vocabulary to almost 90 commands, and allowing the pilot to request information to be displayed for any target or waypoint by voice command.
It will also allow the pilot to manipulate the Laser Designator Pod and even to create a waypoint at a point of interest with just two commands. Combined with the HEA (Head Equipment Assembly), with the Striker head-mounted display, this will dramatically improve combat effectiveness, as the pilot will be able to engage targets in all directions without having to physically turn the fighter around. He will also have complete access to all relevant information on his display, regardless of where his head is pointed, without the need for looking down at the HUD or cockpit screens.

P1EB flight trials should have already begun: the plan was to start the test flying on July 20 with BAE’s IPA6 airplane.

But Brimstone and Storm Shadow? Keep waiting.

P1E is to be followed, in the future, by a Phase 2 Enhancement program (P2E), again released in incremental steps.
There is a first commitment to this next phase, a “contract one” signed, but we are still quite far from having a precise plan for the future. According to Eurofighter:

In the future, it is anticipated that Nations can continue to develop the product but maintain a common baseline product and reduce the dependency on funding being available from other nations. This approach has already been successfully applied to the Tranche 1 product (Note: with RAF money with CP193).

As it has done with AESA development, industry has self-funded some forward development work on advanced air-to-ground capabilities in support of the export campaigns.

There is a growing recognition that with the partner nations all under budgetary pressure, in order to sustain the technology base, Eurofighter may have to share the development of new technologies with partners beyond Europe. As a result, export customers will have the same ability to push the pace of weapon integrations, even if the weapon required is not a priority for the partner nations.

The ability to integrate a new targeting pod and new weapons (ones not previously associated with the Typhoon), and in such a rapid timescale, speaks volumes for the adaptability and agility of the aircraft – and of its manufacturers.

With the India order a broken dream, it is Saudi Arabia that has to drive things forwards, along with the UK.
And, luckily, the Saudis are quite active: this year their Tranche 2 airplanes will be modified to use a Laser Designation Pod, and they will be the first nation having self-designation capability on Tranche 2 airplanes, for the issues described earlier. The pod selected is the French Damocles LDP, already used by the Saudis on their Tornado fleet. Saudi Arabia purchased Paveway IV bombs from the UK for 457 million USD, initially for use on Tornado, and then on Typhoon, in early 2011, but the US are opposing the sale, and Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering buying France’s AASM if the issue can’t be solved. It would be a major blow for Raytheon UK, caused by what is supposed to be “the best ally”, the nation which, more than anyone else, pours technology and weapons into Saudi Arabia. But the US do not want to take risks on the US-produced advanced Anti-Jamming GPS unit used on the Paveway IV, and the diplomatic conflict continues to rage, albeit behind curtains of silence.  

In addition, Saudi Arabia has abandoned earlier plans of producing the last 48 of its 72 Typhoons locally. Difficulties with the industry complex meant a change of plans, and now BAE Systems will build at Warton, in the UK, all of the Saudi Typhoons. In exchange, the last 24 airplanes will have Tranche 3 features, and Saudi Arabia is pushing for the airplanes to come fitted for (and possibly with) electronically scanned array radars and conformal fuel tanks. They are pressing ahead energically with P1E enhancements, which they might achieve before of the four original partner nations.
Saudi Arabia likes the Typhoon, but wants it to develop its air-ground capability. Quickly. Providing them with the capability they want is crucial for securing a widely anticipated second Typhoon order, which could be for another 72 airplanes.

The UK might find the best ally in Saudi Arabia, in the fight for ensuring that the airplane is finally fully developed and armed.
Going with the original European partners seems to slow everything down. According to Eurofighter:

The four nation future capability plan is also under evaluation, though it is likely that Storm Shadow/Taurus cruise missiles will be integrated by 2015, with the advanced Dual Mode Brimstone multi-role close air
support weapon following.

Ignoring the fact that Dual Mode Brimstone will start being supplemented and replaced by Brimstone 2 already next year, it must be noted that we are facing another delay in the plan. It had been hoped to see Storm Shadow and Brimstone fielded by 2014.
Both weapons are said to have Saudi Arabia’s interest, so perhaps the RAF and RSAF could go ahead on their own.

Again, Eurofighter adds:

The Typhoon will wait until mid 2016 for clearance of the Meteor BVR air-to-air missile under a specific Meteor Integration Contract, though development and risk reduction activities are moving ahead, and the planned AESA radar will be introduced in 2015.

Mid 2016 now…? Well, not bad, considering that the Typhoon was originally planned to have Meteor by 2011! Until this Eurofighter news came out, the planned ISD in the RAF was July 2015, but even this target will apparently be missed by a good bit.

Even the AESA radar bit is not as good a news as it would seem. Even if the AESA radar was available by 2015, would it be actually be fitted into the airplanes? Would it be provided at build on Tranche 3 aircrafts at least? For Tranche 2 it is too late already, and a retrofit will be needed if AESA is to be fitted.
Worst part is that it might be late even for Tranche 3 production: orders for Captor radar components for the Tranche 3 Typhoons have already been placed, and work started. Large parts of the system should be the same, but it is not clear what the plan exactly is.

In 2010 the RAF had walked ahead of the other partner nations by placing a 16 million pounds national contract with Selex Galileo for the development and demonstration of an AESA radar solution for Typhoon. It should fly on a RAF Typhoon next year, and is known under the program name Bright Adder. The radar is to have a big air-ground focus, but also, reportedly, the capability to work as a communication data link and an electronic warfare weapon.
The radar aerial is not fixed like in current AESA radars, but mounted on a repositioner, giving a 200° field of view, against a common 120°. 
Similar, yet not the same, is the Captor-E main AESA effort, being brought forwards by the Euroradar consortium. It first flew on a Typhoon in May 2007, and earlier still there was CAESAR (Captor AESA Radar), test flown on a BAC-111 test-bed aircraft.
However, progress was scarce, and the RAF decided to go ahead on its own to have a Plan B in case things would not work.

Finally, in July 2010 the Euroradar consortium made a formal offer to provide an AESA solution for the Eurofighter, following which industry funded the development of a production-series standard AESA radar system, and this is what is now being pushed forwards.
The unit is based in part on the back end of the existing CAPTOR, and on the Selex Vixen 1000E or Raven ES-05 currently under development for the Gripen NG. It uses a similar wide field of regard repositioner for wide field of view, like Bright Adder.
Intended capabilities include greater simultaneous radar functionality, with faster and more accurate detection and tracking of multiple aircraft.

The UK Typhoon Tranche 3 should be at least fitted for (and hopefully with...) adoption of two dorsal 1500 liters Conformal Fuel Tanks. These would prove incredibly useful in the land attack role, as they equate the capacity of 3 auxiliary fuel tanks but do not take away any of the weapon pylons.
This is crucially important because the sole 2 pylons rated for Storm Shadow carriage are the “wet” pylons: either it carries Storm Shadow, or the fuel tanks.
The third auxiliary fuel tank would go in ventral position, where the Laser Designator Pod is normally installed, even if for a long time the LDP has been shown in Eurofighter images fitted at one of the semi-conformal hardpoints under the fuselage. 
It is obvious that having conformal tanks solves a few awkward problems!

BAE Systems curiously reports a story slightly different: according to them, there is no longer a P2E phase, this having been abandoned 

“… in favour of a more organic ‘heartbeat upgrade cycle’. This will see new capabilities being integrated according to a two-year software upgrade cycle featuring SRP 14, SRP 16, SRP 18 and SRP 20, rather than one single big upgrade.”

One possible interpretation of this difference is that, as I suggested, the UK might be looking to a national plan, coherent with the larger Eurofighter plan, but at the same time different. BAE, RAF and RSAF might be about to go onwards on their own path. And indeed BAE adds:

In the wake of the recent ‘Contract One’ signature, the UK now has the power to be able to press ahead with such upgrades even without the participation of the other partner nations. This is a new and important development, and, in concert with the demonstrated new ability to rapidly integrate new
weapons (shown by recent Saudi Typhoon plans), should ensure that the RAF can equip its Typhoons
with the capabilities it requires more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

Many new capabilities will of course, still be required by all of the Typhoon partner nations, and incorporated as part of a four-nation approach, including – for example – AESA radar.

According to some sources the Storm Shadow/Taurus air-launched cruise missile and the Brimstone air-to-surface missile should be integrated under SRP 14.
Similarly, SRP 14 should also introduce an initial operating capability for the Meteor air-to-air missile, with SRP 16 adding full Meteor operating capability.

The planned AESA radar (known as Captor E) should be introduced with either SRP 16 or SRP 18, though at one point this was expected with SRP 14 (in the case of aircraft built for India) and with SRP 16 for the four partner nations to meet an entry-into-service target date of 2015.

The situation is complex, between Tranches, Blocks, SRPs and, now, even the contradictions between BAE’s words and Eurofighter’s words.
I must also admit that I really can’t understand how the “2-year cycle” for software releases actually works. If SRP16 means 2015 ISD, SRP14 should arguably mean ISD in 2013, no? Instead, in 2013 we’ll get SRP10.

The feeling is that software releases are actually years late into active service…

RAF Fleet growth

Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron will reform officially at the RAF Leuchars Jubilee Air Show on 15th September becoming the fourth front line squadron to operate the Typhoon in the UK. According to the MOD Business Plan 2012, the new squadron will achieve Initial Operating Capability in March 2013.

The fifth Typhoon squadron, again to be based in Leuchars (until the planned move to Lossiemouth, at least) will stand up and achieve IOC between April 2013 and March 2015. The identity of the squadron is not yet known.

Full Operating Capability for the Typhoon force is expected in March 2018.

The latest reports, via Jane’s, suggest that the plan of retiring the Tranche 1 Typhoons by 2019 will be abandoned. They will instead be retained, and two more squadrons will be formed, to keep up RAF strength as the Tornado GR4 bows out, by 2019 according to the latest plan.
In addition there would be 48 F35B for the Carrier Strike fleet, procured apparently between 2013 and 2023.

There are some problems in retaining the Tranche 1s, however. The role for which they could more easily be retained is the Air Defence / Quick Reaction Alert role, but even for this, the airplanes would ideally need the AESA radar, since Meteor is best exploited with such a radar system. Other improvements would also be necessary, and of course the missile integration would have to be validated on the older Typhoons. As it is, Meteor is being integrated on Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 only.  

On the other hand, using them in the Swing Role / Land Attack role in the long term is hardly conceivable, as it would require a massive weapon integration effort, plus even more modifications to software and hardware.
And unfortunately, Tranche 1 airframes are weaker than Trance 2 and 3 ones: there are narrower payload limits, and other differences that make it impossible / economically unfeasible to upgrade them to a common standard. It’s the first reason why the plan for an early retirement in 2019 came up to start with.
Development of Tranche 1 Typhoons was indeed to end with SRP 4.3 / Block 5 under the main Typhoon contract. Fortunately, an agreement has been found between the partner nations to continue delivering “Drops” of software upgrades into Tranche 1 airplanes.

It’ll be interesting to see how the RAF approaches the unique challenges of keeping the Tranche 1 in service into the 2020s, if this ends up being the path chosen as it now appears likely. For sure, it’ll be years still before the Typhoon becomes a complete system.

Typhoon’s performance in Libya

All Typhoons employed in Libya were Tranche 1 Block 5 ones, due to the awkward situation we talked of earlier, which sees Tranche 2 airplanes being currently less capable in Air to Ground work than the older Tranche 1.
The Typhoon was limited by its AG armament, limited to the sole 1000 pounds Enhanced Paveway II and Enhanced Paveway II+  (The Plus is a UOR development which couples the Paveway II to the anti-jamming GPS module used by the Paveway IV), but in one area at least it came with a great advantage on Tornado GR4.
The Typhoon is fully network-integrated, and thanks to its Data Ling 16 MIDS it can see the situational awareness picture all the time, sharing data in real time with Sentry, Sentinel, Reaper, with all NATO combat airplanes and with suitably equipped ground stations.

The Tornado GR4, unfortunately, to this day is left without a Data Link capability. It is a very relevant limitation, which makes everything more complex: Flight Lieutenant John Robins-Walker, of 14 Squadron, said after an Afghanistan tour that the lack of Data Link connectivity left them without situational awareness, almost like they were blind. To know the situation in the crowded Afghan sky, they could only relay on radio calls to the AWACS assets in flight at the moment.
For a Tornado GR4, sharing data with other assets is currently impossible, other than via voice communication on the radio, whereas a Link 16 enables a constant upgrade on the position and status of all allied platforms and also makes it possible for the troops on the ground, of any NATO nation, to send standard 9 lines messages for calling Close Air Support, in near real-time and without translation issues, an important factor in a multinational scenario of operations.

The RAF is aware of this problem, and in December 2007 a contract was signed for the Capability Upgrade Strategy (Pilot) programme. This was confirmed in the SDSR 2010 when the decision was made to keep Tornado in service:  

[…] 96 Tornado GR4 aircraft will receive capability upgrades between 2011 and 2014 at an estimated cost of around £300 million. This number of aircraft is sufficient to maintain the operational capability of the Tornado GR4 Forward Available Fleet until OSD. There are currently no plans for the aircraft to receive any further capability upgrades after 2014.

Under CUS(P), General Dynamics UK was selected to provide the Tactical Data Link (TDL) sub-system of the Tactical Information Exchange Capability (TIEC) programme for the Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR9 aircraft, integrating the Link-16 and Improved Data Modem (IDM) on the aircrafts. TIEC integrates the Link-16 and IDM messaging functionality with the aircraft systems to provide the aircrew with enhanced situation awareness that will enable the prosecution of Time Critical and Time Sensitive Targets and will support dynamic re-tasking of the platform and provide a significant enhancement in the area of coalition operations.

The Harrier GR9 was ahead of Tornado in terms of network integration, and flew with its own TIEC version in June 2010.

The TIEC is/was to enter service in 2012 on Tornado GR4, but current status of the programme is not known. A Tornado GR4 fitted with TIEC first flew in November 2010, however, and hopefully we’ll hear something soon about Entry into Service.
The Tornado GR4 is also due to get Secure Communications on Tornado (SCoT), a packet of software-controlled radios developed by Ultra under a 2005 contract. SCoT flew in 2010, but it is not yet in service. Its main purpose is to simplify the pilot’s life by memorizing frequencies and radio networks, allowing the crew to select the needed channel for talking with other airplanes or troops on the ground much more quickly and easily, using a simple interface.

As a UOR, in the meanwhile, Tornado was fitted with the CAGNET multi-band transceiver (based on a Rohde & Schwarz MR6000L software radio) which embodies the Have Quick II waveform used for air-ground communications with JTACs. CAGNET is effectively an half-way house for the longer-term SCoT in which Rohde & Schwarz figures as a principal subcontractor. SCoT in fact uses the very same transceiver, but has additional waveforms including SATURN.

The current MOD position is that whatever improvement Tornado needs, it must get it by 2014, because there won’t be funding for any other upgrade after that date, due to the currently anticipated Out of Service date being 2019. The Tornado’s force at readiness is also going to shrink massively by 2015 as Afghanistan needs end, dropping from 40 elements at readiness to 18.
In the meanwhile, Typhoon force elements at readiness will increase, and their air to ground capabilities will expand. As we’ve seen, though, Tornado GR4 is going to stay the sole Storm Shadow/RAPTOR/Brimstone platform for quite a while still.

In Libya, the Tornado GR4 and Typhoon flew together so that the Tornado crews could be briefed on the radio by the accompanying Typhoon crew about the Data Link 16 picture that the GR4 can’t see. The Typhoon also worked as a “mini-AWACS” of sort, thanks to its powerful radar and data link, and its DASS self-protection system would keep track of any menacing radar transmission in the area, helping to keep the pilots aware, both on the Typhoon and on the Tornado accompanying. In exchange, initially, Tornado GR4 pilots guided the far less experience Typhoon pilots in the ground attack missions, and for a while laser-designated the targets for the Typhoons.
Eventually, when enough operational experience was built up, Typhoons started to carry Litening III and self-designated their targets.

To understand what kind of impact Data Link 16 and MIDS have, I’m reporting the words of Wing Commander Patounas, 3rd Squadron RAF, as appeared in the BAE book “Typhoon: a year on the road”.

As I coasted out from Sicily, I could move my map down to Libya, see every single aircraft that was in the AOR, click on any track, open it up and it would tell me the call sign, how much fuel it had, the height and heading, and its type, tanker, UAV, fighter, ISTAR, the whole hit.
“I had a picture of what was going on in the AOR and the disposition of the maritime fleet, so I could see where the carrier group (sadly not a UK Carrier group…) was, where any destroyers were, and see which types they were.
“And if ASTOR or Joint STARS were out there and painting ground tracks, that information would also be available. I could have details of ground tracks of interest and still have an hour transit to go. I was able to form a picture of what’s going on before I got there.”
 “We’d get airborne about 20 minutes after the Tornados and put them up on our radar, typically 100 miles ahead. We’re all heading to a point in space where we’re supposed to meet the tanker. Looking at the display I can see that there is no tanker; sometimes tankers break. So I already know there’s no fuel and spoke to C2 [the command] using JVOICE, which is the voice capability on Link 16, who advise me that a tanker is coming. Once I know the position to meet the tanker, I would instruct the Tornados and meet them at that point. That saves the Tornados a whole stack of gas because they have not gone hundreds of miles in the wrong direction.
“That’s one part of the link. If I received tasking away from a Predator, I would always want to know where it was and would ask to speak to the Predator crew to see if they had identified anything of interest. Because we can travel quickly, we can pop over to the Predator’s location and help, or add perspective to what the crew is watching on their screen, and often bring weapons to something that the crew wouldn’t engage.
“You can be pro-active in your search, go to where you’re told but you don’t know what you’re looking for because you don’t know what’s going to be there or what’s going to occur, it was all very dynamic.
“Rather than just sitting [on Close Air Patrol] unaware of what’s going on around you, [MIDS allows] you
to see there’s nothing going on where you are and that everyone’s at a different location. By suggesting that you move there to help we could help C2 out that way.
“And also you can send effectively text messages, so if you have radio problems, you can just send people messages over and above, so it really, really does enhance stuff.”

Provided the aircraft is on the link, the pilot has connectivity and can speak and communicate. “It’s like a wireless internet connection: when you’re on it you can use all the functionality,” said Patounas.
MIDS also helped pilots to de-conflict. Even in a tactical fighting situation flight safety is paramount and MIDS allowed aircraft to be identified in the battle space.
“C2 can’t tell you everything, but before we even get there [using MIDS] I can advise that there’s a pair over there, and we’re heading to that same area. Often you’d see them ahead of when you would have ordinarily picked them up.”
MIDS is also a huge advantage with locating the positions of unmanned aircraft, which move slowly and are difficult to spot. They are displayed and could be seen nine times out of ten when in the vicinity, according to one Typhoon pilot.


  1. At least the Typhoon worry has it's try in "combat" over Libya. America's F-22 seemed to State side since it's birth, albeit some small deployment to an un-named Middle Eastern base.

    1. Indeed, the F22 has had a lot of trouble. And it entered service about as network-centric as the old Tornado: even the F22 aged so much during its development that it had no link 16...

      I'm not sure if it has finally been added now or if the upgrade process is still ongoing.

    2. I thought it's not to have a link 16 since the F-22 is suppose to be for US/CONUS airspace defence, not offence

    3. No, no, it has been fitted or will be fitted with Link 16. The lack of data link has been identified as a major issue.

      As of 2011, there were issues with the intended data link and interim solutions to tie into Link 16 were being pursued.

  2. It would be great news if they decided to retain the T1 airframes beyond 2019, I always thought it was a fairly ridiculous decision.

    How they would be utilised is a bit more of a complicated issue. I think it would indeed make sense to have them performing QRA and other air defence tasks, thus freeing up the T2/3's for swing-role and ground attack roles.

    I think though I'm right in thinking that the original plan was for 232 airframes to equip 7 squadrons. What are the implications of having 160 doing the same job? Surely it means they would be worked much harder and burn through flight hours more rapidly than previously thought?

    1. I think a lot of things have changed in the years. Aircraft availability has improved and flying hours have reduced, along with training needs. Losing airplanes these days is relatively rare.

      Thinking of an attrition reserve as big as implied by a 232 airplanes/7 squadrons plan is absurd and unacceptable.

      But yes. Of course, the less airplanes in the fleet, the less airframes there are to work with, so those that are there are worked harder.

    2. Hi Gabriele

      Thank you for this. I agree totally with anonymous that it would be excellent news if the Tranche 1's are retained. It was always a barking decision anyway.

      The original plan did indeed envisage 7 frontline squadrons, one for one replacements of the 7 Tornado F3 squadrons, 2 at Coningsby, 3 at Leeming, 2 at Leuchars.

      If an extra 2 squadrons are formed will be interesting to see where they are based. Leeming would be good as it has 2 HAS sites empty. Lossimouth has 3 HAS complexes, Coningsby 2, which will be full with the current fleet.

      Would be dissapointed if they put them on the flightline and not in a HAS, such an expensive asset.

    3. Oh of course a few years ago the guys in charge were hoping for 232 Typhoon, 150 Lightning AND something to replace Tornado. Those were complete pipe dreams and even if affordable it wouldn'y represent what the British Armed Forces need to get the job done any-more.

      You made a good point on the fact that the way these machines are operated has changed which means they will probably have easier lives in a 1 on 1 comparison with their predecessors, but I am of course also in agreement that the fewer airframes you have the harder they need to be worked.

      I'm interested in what the implications will be on effectiveness and out of service dates if all 160 aircraft are retained and put in-to a 7 squadron set-up.

      Having said that you can look at Tornado and have cause to be optimistic. A fleet of around 140 aircraft maintained a 7 squadron fleet for many years and the type as a whole will be well over 40 years old by the time it finally retires.

      It means that Typhoon will undoubtedly be around for longer than expected.

    4. I'll give you another reason to be optimist: the Typhoon airframe is certified for 6000 flying hours, but the BAE airframe on stress testing is going for 18.000 hours of simulated flying on the stress machine and is still going on...

      As to Lossiemouth, i do not know if my data is still valid and up to date, but until a few years ago it had 5 hangars with space for 84 airplanes and parking slots outside for a further 76.
      You could park the whole Typhoon fleet in there...

    5. I do admire everyone's optimism here but it seems fairly obvious what is happening here:

      1) Tranche 1 will be retained but only as an interim between Tornado GR4 and F-35B; Tornado is expensive to operate and RAF has been avoiding investing in it in order to fund the Typhoon upgrades. With F-35 delayed and Typhoon deliveries winding up the obvious solution is to use the Typhoon T1s as interim aircraft to the F-35B- 8 squadrons falls 7 not 8 squadrons becoming 9.

      2)The QRA role does not require AESA, about the most challenging thing that requires the attention of QRA is the Tu-95 (successfully intercepted by the EE Lightning) and the Tu-160 (With Tornado F3). There really is no requirement for AESA for that role

      3) The 232 number has an interesting history that is really too long for a comment box but the short story is that the original requirement was for 250 airframes to re-equip at least 9 squadrons (Phantoms, Buccaneers and Jaguars); it then got reduced to 232 and the Tornado F3 was thrown into the "to be replaced with Typhoon" bucket: As RAF numerical strength has progressively reduced since 1998 the MoD has sought to rid itself of these excess airframes: Dropping Tranche 3B, selling some to Saudi and pushing them, thus far unsuccessfully, on Oman and finally planning to ditch the T1 airframes early.

    6. 1) We agree on the fact that retaining Tranche 1 is to make up for retirement of Tornado and reduction in F35 orders. But you do assume that we are doomed to losing the Typhoons Tranche 1 immediately after the F35B deliveries are complete, and while this is possible, i won't deem it as automatic as you do.

      2) We can agree on this too, in line of principle, but we cannot be sure. Since AMRAAM is going to go, Meteor will have to be integrated, and while it can work without an AESA radar, the RAF might not want a suboptimal fit. It depends on how long they plan to keep the TRanche 1 around, i'd say, and we do not know this.

    7. Gabriele,

      1) Whilst we don't *know* that the Tranche 1s will got when the F-35B arrives it does seem glaringly obvious and all the evidence points in that direction: The UK currently has 8 fast jet squadrons, given the brutal fiscal realities (even worse than when the SDSR was published) it seems ridiculous to think this will increase (it would also be the first increase since the early 50s)

      2) What the RAF might want and what it ultimately gets have frequently been two different things and I see no reason for this changing; If the Typhoon T1 hangs around into the early 2020s there is no reason why AMRAAM wont too. There is precedent for this with the Lightning and Red Top.

    8. That's your opinion and a possible scenario. Perhaps even a likely scenario. But nothing more.

    9. Agreed, but I see no evidence to suggest that my opinion is wrong, though I am happy to see it if there is. On the other-hand I see nothing to support the growth to 9 squadrons theory, which is also just opinion at this stage.

      On the technical side; I really hope that the conformal tanks are fitted, one of the lessons from Libya was the need for range/endurance. Your excellent commentary about the pylon issue further underscores the necessity. It would be insane to me if they were not included.

    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Actually, I think Lossi may only have 2 HAS sites, not 3.

  4. Surely if the tranche 1 block 5 has already demonstrated paveway II then the level of work to produce a more developed air to ground ability is not massive

    and there is no overiding requirement for AESA or meteor to be added (to tranche 1) on that type of ground attack typhoon version.

    it could remain a halfway house, a far more competent aircraft than tornado but without the full capabilities of tranche 3 typhoon

    it would be a better ground attack platform than a great many others and could act as a force multiplier for tornado until OSD and after that for UAVs etc .......

    from the description of the Libyan op there is not a great deal more........ paveway IV and storm shadow to make a very competent force out of tranche 1

    either think of brimstone II or spear 3 for the future but don't go crazy, just realise that the full network capability will add greatly to options availble with a "somewhat enhanced" tranche 1

    1. I'd say that the RAF would be very, very happy if they managed to get Meteor and Paveway IV onto the TRanche 1s. It might be all what is really needed to operate them back at home, and eventually as reinforcement in ops abroad.

      The Meteor being needed because the RAF has a limited stock of AMRAAM, with a limited life, and would prefer not to spend money on two medium/long range AA missiles.

      The Paveway IV being needed because this way they can retire the Paveway II and, again, reduce the number of systems they have to fund and keep workable.

      As i said in the article, Tranche 1 airplanes are receiving limited updates via "Drops", with the Drop 2 having been installed, Drop 3 on the way and Drop 4 already planned.

      Hopefully, once Meteor and Paveway IV are validated on Tranche 2, they can put them on Tranche 1 with a specific Drop.

      But here we are venturing into speculation. This is a quite damn complex subject, and i try to stick to what official sources say.

  5. Tornado is to be out of service by 2019 according to the BAE half year report.

    Interesting stuff, maybe that will increase the likelihood of the T1 Typhoon's being retained, at least for a few years post 2020, perhaps until a follow up Lightning buy is pursued and a fleet of UCAV becomes active.

    1. Nothing new under the sun, it was revealed in a Written Answer in Parliament already some time ago, and it is said in this and other articles of mine too.

      BAE's report is just another confirmation.

    2. The 2019 date for Tornado retirement has been common knowledge since at least 2010. It is also common knowledge that this has fed through into the investment and maintenance plans meaning that it has effectively become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Now F-35 is delayed until the early 2020s there is a gap and the plan is obviously to fill it with the Tranche 1 Typhoons. Any follow-on F-35 buy will have nothing to do with the Tranche 1 Typhoons, it will instead relate to the 107 upgraded Typhoons whose OSD is currently 2030. The USAF is,for now, set to receive its last F-35A in 2035 meaning the type will not only still be in production in 2030 but based on current programmes it will likely also be the only US/European 5th gen fast jet platform in production; effectively making it the only plausible replacement for Typhoon at its currently planned OSD if the RAF wants to replace it with another tactical fighter.

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