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.