Thursday, June 13, 2013

Typhoon: full steam ahead at last...?

The italian defence-themed magazine "Panorama Difesa" reports on the evolution of the Eurofighter Typhoon, and notes that, with the P1EA enhancements delivered and the P1EB improvements soon to be released, the european fighter is now starting to really look ahead to the next enhancement phases.

The Phase 1 Enhancement, P1E, introduces the following improvements:

- Integration of Paveway IV and EGBU - 16 guided bombs, enabling full exploitation of both laser and GPS aiming modes.
- Software upgrade to enable multiple simultaneous attacks against surface targets

- Full integration of the laser designation pod LITENING III, with in flight retargeting capability
- Digital integration of the short range air to air missile IRIS-T (ASRAAM was already integrated)
- Improved, updated MIDS Data Link 16
- IFF brought to standard Mod 5 Level 2, with full integration in the combat system
- Improved GPS navigation, including the addition of a predictive mode that can warn the pilot about possible incoming connectivity problems that might cause problems to a GPS-guided strike
- Improved auto pilot with Auto-Combat Air Patrol and Auto Attack modes, to reduce the pilot's workload by making the aircraft capable to autonomously navigate its CAP route, or the attack path to one or multiple surface targets
- Introduction of new Air to Ground modes to the Helmet Mounted Sight System
- Improved Defensive Aids Sub System (DASS Praetorian) with automatic response (launch of Chaff and Flares) on detection of a threat, recognized thanks to a register of hostile signatures that is loaded in the computers before take off

These are all very significant improvements. Over Libya, in 2011, the Typhoon could only employ the old Paveway II bomb, and had to operate with significant limitations to its strike capability. The P1E improvements make the Typhoon, finally, a really capable Swing Role platform.

Many capabilities, however, continue to be unavailable and many weapons are left to be integrated.

According to Panorama Difesa, the updated schedule for the evolution of the Typhoon starts during 2014, with the launch of the Phase 2 Enhancement program.
P2E will introduce the AESA radar, which will start being available in 2015/16 and will reach its full capability with two successive releases of improvements, one in 2017 and one in 2019.
The AESA radar will enable the Typhoon to fully exploit the capabilities of the Meteor long range air to air missile, included the 2-way datalink which makes the weapon a fully networked effector, capable of in-flight retargeting. The AESA will be more powerful and reliable, will track a higher number of targets simultaneously and it is also expected to be able to acts as a high-speed communication system (radar to radar) and an Electronic Warfare weapon, with Jamming capability.
The british AESA technology demonstrator, the Bright Adder, is said to be particularly focused on the EW function.
Thanks to AviationWeek, we now have an image of the AESA radar being fitted on the IPA5 test airframe, at the BAE System factory in Warton. The IPA5 will fly with the AESA by year's end.

Photo by AviationWeek (BAE Systems image)

The AESA situation is complex, as there are, effectively, two different evolution paths which will be harmonized into the final product: in addition to the british Bright Adder demonstrator, the Euroradar consortium, led by SELEX Galileo and comprising Cassidian and Indra, is working on the Captor-E, development of which was announced at the Farnborough International Air Show on 20 July 2010.
Both programs were preceded by numerous demonstrators such as AMSAR (Airborne Multirole Solid State Active Array Radar), CECAR (Captor E-Scan Risk Reduction) and the CAESAR (Captor Active Electronically Scanning Array Radar), the latter having already flown on a Typhoon in May 2007.
The AESA radar that comes out of the development will be mounted on a repositioner, unlike current AESA plates which are fixed. The repositioner will expand the field of view of the radar well past the frontal 100°, enabling surveillance to the sides and allowing the pilot to manouvre aggressively in an air battle, without breaking radar contact. 

It has been clearly stated that it won't be possible to have a fully-capable AESA radar in 2015: capabilities will be expanded and implemented over time, with the two successive releases of 2017 and 2019. Capabilities such as synthetic aperture radar and electronic attack, including electronic support measures and jamming, will be introduced in service over time.

Physical introduction of the AESA radar will also most likely take time: if the schedule is respected, the first operational AESA radar for the Typhoon will be available for order in 2015/16. At best, the partner countries could finance the integration of it on the Tranche 3A Typhoons yet to be built, but production of most planes on order at that point will be already completed, or very advanced.
In practice, the AESA will have to be purchased and retrofitted, and only the Tranche 3A airframes are ready to take it.
Retrofitting the fleet is unlikely to be cheap, and as a consequence, it will take time. 

In terms of weapons, the P2E will include the integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile, which is high on the list of priorities of the RAF but also of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Italy. The Italian Air Force current planning position is that the Typhoon will replace the Tornado as platform for the launch of the Storm Shadow, which might (or might not) be integrated on the F35 as well, but only later.
The Storm Shadow should be integrated by 2015/16. 
Panorama Difesa fails to mention the Brimstone, which other sources have instead described as a rather urgent requirement, wanted both by UK and Saudi Arabia. Possibly, Oman is interested as well. It was mainly for the current and future Middle Eastern clients that MBDA demonstrated the anti-FIAC capability of the air launched Brimstone. 
On 25 June 2012, a Brimstone missile fired by a Tornado GR4 at the Aberporth range in Wales sunk a Fast In-shore Attack Craft target. This capability is considered very important by Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, as they are faced by the very real threat of swarms of FIACs coming from Iran.

Brimstone and Storm Shadow are priorities for the RAF, which will retire the last of its Tornado GR4 in March 2019. It is possible that both missiles will be integrated as part of the P2E program. 
The Meteor itself is still expected to fly on Typhoons in 2015, but it now won't be fully operative before 2017, the ISD currently planned by the RAF. According to some reports, the delay imposed to Meteor is a trade-off made to prioritize the integration of the air to surface weaponry.

On specific request of Saudi Arabia, the Typhoon has been flying with the french, Thales-produced DAMOCLES laser targeting pod, which will be integrated and offered as an alternative fit to the LITENING.

A Written Answer given by mr Dunne in Parliament on 21 May 2013 also reveals that Typhoon will be used to bring in the air for trials the new SPEAR 3 stand-off multi-mission missile.

Mr Dunne: SPEAR Cap 3, an air-to-surface capability for the joint strike fighter (JSF), is currently in its assessment phase. As part of SPEAR Cap 3 development onto JSF there is a requirement to trial and demonstrate the missile on a similar platform. Typhoon will be used for these trials.
This might open the way for a swift, fleet-wide integration of the weapon, which is carried on a quadruple rack, potentially expanding massively the offensive payload of a Typhoon for a strike mission.

16 SPEAR 3 weapons on a Typhoon, and potentially room for 8 more if the underwing fuel tanks are replaced by Conformals on the back of the airframe

Foreign customers, present and potential, are also the driver behind the effort for the integration of a powerful arsenal of Anti-Ship missiles.
The Rafale can carry Exocet missiles, and the Typhoon, on its part, currently offers three solutions:

Harpoon, with up to 3 missiles carried
RBS15, with up to 3 missiles carried
MARTE ER with up to 6 missiles carried

BAE has been wind-tunnel testing the Harpoon solution, which has the interest of Saudi Arabia and of Malaysia, one of the several potential customers that Eurofighter is trying to seduce.
In Italy, Alenia is working on fit-checks and wind tunnel trials of the MARTE ER solution, Panorama Difesa reports.
The RBS15 missile was already offered to India. I have no news on the extent of the trials made to validate the carriage of the RBS15, however.

AGM-84 Harpoon missiles on Typhoon

At least one of the three anti-ship missiles, the one which will eventually be selected by Saudi Arabia, is expected to be integrated by 2016.
If Malaysia order the Typhoon and requested a different Anti-Ship solution, more activity in this field might be seen.
The RAF is unlikely to be interested in Anti-Ship weapons, but personally i'd very much support pursuing the capability, since the retirement of the Nimrod has eliminated the british capability to fire a serious, heavy anti-ship missile from the air. Assuming that the Harpoon arsenal which used to be of the Nimrods hasn't been disposed of (yet), it would be great to reintroduce the capability, which i judge important for a maritime nation like the UK. 

Last, but not at all least, is the Conformal Fuel Tank development. Initially, only Britain had shown interest in having CFTs, and it is mostly because of that interest that the Tranche 3A Typhoons leave the factory with a suitably reinforced airframe and with the connections for the future installation of CFTs.
BAE has already tested a scale model in the wind-tunnel and development is underway with collaboration from GKN Engage.

A mock-up showing CFTs fitted

First wind-tunnel testing

The small bumps on the airframe of this Tranche 3A Typhoon in construction are the connections for the CFTs. The airframe is also strenghtened to support the weight of the two 1500 liters tanks.

Conformal Fuel Tanks are essential to expand the mission range of the Typhoon without compromising the carriage of heavy weapons. The Storm Shadow, for example, can only be fitted at the same wing stations destined to the external fuel tanks. The CFTs also reduce drag, and likely have less of a damaging effect on the Radar Cross Section of the Typhoon.

Panorama Difesa reports that the UK is no longer alone in calling for CFTs, as Saudi Arabia has expressed a requirement in the same sense, and is ready to contribute funding for their introduction between 2016 and 2020. 

CFTs and Anti-Ship missiles would, seen the dates, probably be part of the P3E program (each Enhancement Phase is a 2-year period), which, according to Panorama Difesa, would also see the integration of the Taurus cruise missile, employed by Germany and Spain.

If the above roadmap is correct and is respected, the RAF will be able to hit the Typhoon Full Operating Capability in 2018, as currently planned.
At least one big gap still remains, though: there is not a single reconnaissance system in sight, so far, which means an uncertain future for high quality imagery reconnaissance for the RAF once the Tornado GR4 is retired, leaving the RAPTOR pod without a carrier.
True, the RAPTOR sensor was trialed as far back as 2005 on Reaper, so there are (in theory at least) alternative options: but even the future of the Reaper is still uncertain.

Is it full steam ahead for the Typhoon swing role, then?
It would appear so. Let's hope we are not disappointed.


  1. Its ironic that after over a decade of conflict which was driven by ever greater conflict it is the Typhoon as a tactical fighter which is finally and belatedly coming of age whilst the RAF ISTAR position is a mess:

    Sentinel R1: future in doubt
    RAPTOR: Seemingly to be retired without replacement
    Nimrod: Scrapped
    Rivet Joint: Unable to refuel from UK tankers

    It is also pathetic that Typhoon is only now starting to become the fully multirole aircraft it should have been a decade ago. The thing was originally intended as a multirole tactical fighter to be deployed primarily in RAF Germany.

  2. The overseas orders for typhoon. Will the aircraft be built at warton? Im happy that britain is getting these orders. But just wondered why is it that britain is getting them ahead of say italy germany spain? They will reap benefits from the manufacture of 'their' part of the typhoon. But how does this work in terms of foreign buyers? Is there any competition between the founding nations of the typhoon project?

    Cheers sellers

    1. The airplanes for Oman and Saudi Arabia are built at Warton. So would be aircrafts eventually ordered by the United Arab Emirates. Typhoon components, however, are still built by all four partner nations (and UAE itself, they produce some components already).

      A second Saudi order is expected, and this time they will really want to open up an assembly line at home. All four original Typhoon partners' industries would be involved in the production of the various parts, though.

      The location of the final assembly of the Typhoons that are sold abroad depends on agreed "areas of influence". For example, negotiations with India were EADS-led, and i think the Typhoons would have been assembled in Germany as a consequence, had an order followed.
      Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE should all be BAE territory, so Warton.
      Had Romania selected the Typhoon instead of second-hand F16s, i think the government to government deal would have been made by Italy, with assembly in Italy.

  3. Gabby, how realistic is a second order for the Saudis, and what sort of numbers would you personally expect?

    1. I do not have any personal contact with officers in Saudi Arabia, obviously, so i can only base myself on what others say. Everyone seem to agree that a second Saudi order, of between 48 and 72 Typhoons, is pretty much a certainty. They do not really have problems with money, and their massive orders of US gear aren't planned to be the whole story. The Saudis plan to replace their Tornado aircrafts with Typhoon, and that makes a second order highly likely.

  4. Gaby

    "At least one big gap still remains, though: there is not a single reconnaissance system in sight, so far, which means an uncertain future for high quality imagery reconnaissance for the RAF once the Tornado GR4 is retired, leaving the RAPTOR pod without a carrier."

    Do you think that the above fact should result in a decision to "run on" Tornado for a few more years. We seem determined to get rid of some quite serviceable kit well before it needs to go. (Another case in point would be the Sea King AEW version, due to disappear in three years time!)

    Incidentally, the promise given yesterday by David Cameron that there will be no more cuts to the size of the Armed Forces:

    "We are not going to be making further cuts to the numbers of our Army Navy and Air Force"

    is good news, isn't it? Promises too on sticking to commitments on the equipment budget.

    1. On Cameron's words, as i said on Twitter, i'll believe when i'll see. So far, they have not been entirely encouraging, raiding the MOD already twice, in the Autumn Statement and in the Budget 2013, going to menace the balance and 10-year plan that they had just written out.
      So, reassuring, but there's still pain on the horizon and we'll have to see how much of an impact there is.

      As for Tornado, no, absolutely i would never encourage keeping it in service for a longer time: it would cost too much. I would suggest looking into integrating RAPTOR on the Typhoon.
      The RAPTOR name is misleading as it claims it is a system "for Tornado". In the RAF it was destined to the GR4, of course, but in other countries it flies on F16s, old F4s and it works on a Reaper too.

      If the RAPTOR is still a valid and capable system, i'd want to migrate it onto the Typhoon. If it is not, i still think a new pod system would be needed.

    2. I wonder if the fact that there is no current public plan to integrate RAPTOR, means that they hope to get a new reconnaissance pod. I think the RAF only have a small number of RAPTOR pods, so maybe they think there is no point in having them on the Typhoon while Tornado is still around (mainly due to the cost). Then by 2019 when the Tornado are retired, the RAPTOR pod will have been in service for nearly 20 years.

      Of course with how the budget is, even if they want a new pod, it is still questiobable if they will get one, or how long of a capability gap they might have to accept.

    3. That might be the idea, but as far as i'm aware there's not a program of acquisition for a new recce pod in sight. And the RAPTOR's sensors are still considered top class stuff, so a replacement does not seem to be so urgent

      As for RAPTOR numbers, i believe it is just 8 pods and 2 ground stations.

  5. Agreed that migrating RAPTOR onto Typhoon is the most sensible approach to take.

    Generally good news about Paveway, Meteor and AESA. I still find it a little worrying that their is no concrete timetable in place for Brimstone and Storm-Shadow. They will need to be integrated onto Typhoon by 2019 (unless we want another ghastly capability gap) and 6 years isn't that far away.

    Any more news on the rumour that the RAF want to keep the Tranche 1 Typhoon's and more than 5 squadrons in place beyond 2019?

    1. Sadly, never heard anything else about the Tranche 1 fate. We have to assume that there won't be money, and they'll be wasted.

    2. I guess one has to still live in hope! Otherwise they will be down to around 150 fast jets before the decades out, and it will certainly be a squeeze to try and get QRA, expeditionary force elements and a carrier squadron out of so few airframes.

      The benefit as I see it of keeping more Typhoon's is that it would keep overall numbers up, thus allowing the first 48 Lightnings to focus on carrier ops, effectively being solely Harrier replacements instead of having to take up the slack from Tornado as well.

      We could then take our time in deciding how many additional Lightnings we want/can afford, and which variant/force mix would suit us best.

    3. Hoping is all we can do. But it certainly is becoming harder and harder to keep up any kind of hope.

  6. Hi Gabriele,

    Thanks for the update on the Typhoon.

    Off topic.

    DC says; no further cuts to numbers, increase in equipment budget to go ahead.
    PH says: any further cuts will be capability ones.

    How does that add up? A 1.6 billion cut is not going to be done by cutting down on paper clips. The only thing I can think off is the early retirement of equipment that will be replaced in the future. Could it be the Tornado?


    1. Possibly. An earlier cut of two squadrons, perhaps... they can ground them earlier than planned and still don't call it a cut if they say it is because 617 must start working on going F35 and the reduction is all "part of the road to the planned OSD of March 2019"...

  7. There no public comment on raptor pod transferring to typhoon because it wont raptor pod will not fit on the typhoon centre line due to landing gear door restrictions and to fit one on the wing station affects its directional stability to much. I believe recce lite is an option for dedicated picture pod but lightening pod offers some capability. It may make sense to have a common camera pod available to both f35 and typhoon. We could also fit the sensors in raptor to a more compatible pod.

  8. One thing you consistently forget to mention about the numbers for the Typhoon are that a significant number of tranche 1 Typhoons are 2 seaters being used in the OCU and training role. These would still be needed even if the single seat tranche 1 Typhoons were withdrawn. Thus you get 22 two seaters + 63 tranche 2 + 40 tranche 3 aircraft giving a total of 129. That's more than enough for 5 active squadrons, 1 OCU, 1 OEU and 1 flight on the Falklands. That's how the RAF can stand up and maintain a new squadron at Lossiemouth in 2015 and still make the numbers work long-term.

    So by the end of 2015 we have 7 Typhoon squadrons and 4 Tornado in the UK with 3 being built up in the US on the F-35B (17, 617 and 809).

    The next question is then do we keep the other tranche 1 Typhoons going to create a force of 9 sqdns by 2018 and place a second order of 48 for the F-35B (2 RAF and 1 FAA sqdns) as a replacement for the 4 Tornado sqdns or do we keep the Typhoon at 7 sqdns and order 90 more F-35B's (4 RAF and 2 FAA sqdns)?

    The latter option looks too expensive to me in an age of austerity and with delays in the F-35 programme would probably requite the Tornado to keep going into the 2020's. Plus the former option might help keep open the possibility of more Typhoon exports to UAE etc.

    1. You are counting OCU and OEU as frontline squadrons, but they are not. On the two-seaters, i don't think the RAF deems them indispensable anymore. Not in those numbers, anyway. And yes, i know the RAF has more than enough for 5 squadrons. The whole point is that with the money that has been invested, 5 squadrons are quite disappointing.

      In 2015 the Tornado squadrons will be 2 (plus OCU, with the possibility that the OCU actually is downgraded from squadron to a single flight).

      617 Sqn is disbanding on 1 April 2014, and won't be back before 2016 with F-35B (2018 before it is in the UK and ready to do something)

      12 Squadron goes on 31 march 2014

      II Squadron, as announced today, loses Tornado in March 2015 and becomes the fifth squadron on Typhoon.

      That, counting only frontline, combat units, makes 5 Typhoon + 2 Tornado in 2015 and 0 on F-35B (XVII squadron is to be a OEU with some 3 airplanes in all, seriously, i'm not counting that). 7 squadrons. That's all. And one of those will be at IOC, at most.

      It is actually that bad.

    2. At the time of the SDSR the RAF operated 12 frontline squadrons plus 5 reserve squadrons making a total of 17. In total the RAF had 38,500 personnel.

      To put this into context the defence budget is targeted to decline by 8% in real terms during this Parliament.

      RAF personnel numbers were set to fall by 5,000 which is about 13%.

      It is usually assumed when making cuts that the objective is to reduce the frontline by the least while making the greatest savings in back office operations. So far the position of the RAF would seem to be the opposite of this.

      In the SDSR it was announced that two Tornado squadrons and the whole Harrier force would be disbanded immediately. This had the effect of cutting the frontline squadron numbers by 3 to 9 (a 25% cut), the total number of RAF fast jet squadrons by 4 to 13 (a 23.5% cut).

      However, things haven’t stopped there. Earlier this year 17 Squadron gave up its aircraft to become the first unit to set up and train with the F-35B. But at the earliest that won’t happen until late 2015 thus cutting numbers even further for two to two and a half years.

      Then it was announced that next spring both 12 and 617 Squadrons would be giving up their Tornados with 617 becoming the first operational frontline squadron to operate the F-35B. But again the earliest that 617 could form up would be 2016 leaving another two year gap and no plans have been announced for 12 Squadron.

      The effects of these announcements will be to reduce the number of frontline squadrons from April next year to just 7 (a 42% cut since 2010) and the total number of fast jet squadrons to 10 (a 41% reduction).

      What is disturbing about the statement on Friday is that it was widely assumed that the new Typhoon Squadron setting up in April 2015 would be a replacement for 12 Squadron and would therefore see a slight reduction in the level of cuts seen in 2013-14.

      Instead the statement would imply that the RAF is to continue on these very small numbers until the arrival of the F-35B. And therein lies a problem. The US Department of Defense has announced that the software to enable the F-35 to fight and use most of its weapons won’t be available until at least 2017. Presumably that’s why the MoD has recently let it be known that the F-35B’s won’t be arriving in the UK until 2018.

      Is there any justification for such a drastic cut?

      The only one I can think of is that it's meant to be a temporary reduction to fund a large procurement budget and that it will be reversed after 2018.

      A decision has been taken that from 2014 until at least 2018 there is no serious possibility of the UK being involved in any major military operation that would involve airpower and so the current force can be cut in favour of new equipment.

      And if you look at what's happened since 2010 there has been a lot of new equipment either bought or on order such as the 40 tranche 3 Typhoons, 48 F-35B's, 28 Hawk T2's, 3 RC-135 Air Seekers, 14 A330 Voyagers and 22 A400 Atlas'. In addition the Puma and Chinook fleets have been seriously upgraded and although not for the RAF there are 62 Wildcats on order.

      On top of this there are all those new missile programmes to fund - Meteor BVRAAM, Brimstone 2 and SPEAR for the RAF but also LMM, FASGW and CAMM. And then there's all the UCAV research.

      Altogether it seems to me that virtually every part of the RAF and UK air power is getting new equipment during this decade.

      Looking after 2018 there seems a lot less to buy - 48 more F-35B's, some more Hawk T2's and possibly upgrades to ASRAAM and Shadow Storm. It all looks a lot less and judging by recent history projects such as Scavenger UCAV won't be around until 2023 at the earliest.

      So perhaps by 2020 or so we then get to go back to the sort of numbers immediately after the 2010 SDSR of 9 frontline squadrons (7 Typhoon and 2 F-35B), 4 in reserve (an OCU and an OEU for both the Typhoon and F-35B) plus 2 naval air squadrons (both F-35B).

      After all that would 'only' represent a cut of 25% since 2010!

    3. All very sensible, but i'm told that the Typhoon squadrons will remain five, and the Tranche 1s are definitely going to leave service.
      I don't think the reductions will be reversed. RAF personnel that i've spoken to suggest that their big hope is to obtain a third F-35B squadron in the 2020s. And that's about it.

    4. It will be worse in 2019 - 2020. 617 Sqn won't hit IOC before 2018, and 809 NAS will take longer to stand up and achieve its own capability. According to what the RAF has been saying since 2010, in 2019 and 2020, as the Tornado GR4 is withdrawn, the RAF will be down to just 6 squadrons. There was a brief resurgence of optimism in 2012, when the idea of keeping the Typhoons tranche 1 was aired on the press, with the suggestion of standing up one or two additional Typhoon squadrons, but the optimism seems to have been killed off.
      Slightly delaying the beginning of the withdrawal of the Tranche 1 (if really it'll be delayed) might be a last attempt to try and negotiate on their fate during the next SDSR in 2015. But the hopes of obtaining anything are very low: the fear is that more cuts will come instead. The most pessimist people say that Tornado GR4 might not arrive to 2019, but be axed earlier than that. So the picture is quite depressing.



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