Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Waiting for Typhoon as the force vanishes


Typhoon: it'll keep us waiting forever

The Ministry of Defence has revealed, in an article on the magazine Defence Focus, issue 273, August 2013, the next planned milestones for the Typhoon fighter jet.
A lot of capability is coming, but, as always with this plane which has sucked the MOD budget dry over decades, slowly. So slowly that, well before the plane is mature, the 52 jets of the Tranche 1 will be withdrawn from service unless there is a (more and more unlikely) change of plan. So slowly that, unless Typhoon gets a mid-life upgrade and life extension, maturity will be achieved just nine years before the type is expected to retire from service.
It is frankly astonishing and depressing to see how the Typhoon sets for itself modest targets and yet constantly fails to achieve them. The weapons that have to get integrated on the aircraft aren't new, except for the Meteor anti-air missile. Brimstone, Paveway IV, Storm Shadow, have all been in service for years and have all long been expected to be integrated on the Typhoon. Yet, even the In Service Date (ISD) for Paveway IV is two years away (2015). A depressingly long time, for the integration of a laser/GPS guided bomb and for the preparation of the force for its use.

The milestones ahead are:

January 2014: delivery of first Typhoon Tranche 3A (airframe number BS116) to the RAF
April 2015: 5th (and last, almost certainly) frontline Typhoon squadron stands up on RAF Lossiemouth
2015: full ISD for the Paveway IV
2016: first Typhoon tranche 1 scheduled to be withdrawn from service, a mere 10 years after the first frontline RAF squadron (3 Sqn) was stood up at Coningsby
2017: Meteor initial testing
2018: Meteor ISD. Storm Shadow ISD at the "end of the year"
2020: Brimstone 2 missile ISD
2021: AESA radar expected to reach full capability

2030: currently expected Out of Service Date for Typhoon

A tiny little bit of good news comes from the fact that the 27mm gun mounted on Typhoon (which years ago barely survived a mental plan to get rid of it to save some money) has now been given Frangible Armour-Piercing (FAP) ammunition, made by the german Rheinmetall.

The company thus offers a new type of ammunition for its 27mm automatic cannon. Highly effective against hard- and soft-skinned targets, the company’s frangible armour-piercing (FAP) ammunition 27 x 145mm/ PEB 327 performs its mission without conventional explosives or a fuze. Weighing 260 grams, the projectile is completely inert. It consists of a core made of a frangible tungsten mix, enveloped by several layers of tungsten-steel alloy. When the projectile penetrates the target’s outer skin, it progressively breaks up, causing catastrophic damage as it travels deeper into the internal structure of the target. A high-energy cloud of fragments and shrapnel results, reliably destroying the target. Thanks to its inert projectile and lack of toxic elements, the FAP 27mmx145 is also suitable for training purposes. Moreover, there is no need to store special service ammunition, obviating the need for expensive demilitarisation at the end of its shelf-life. This results in substantially lower lifecycle costs. Rheinmetall has already started to supply the Royal Air Force, the first customer for the 27 mm FAP, with 244,000 rounds of this innovative ammunition.

FAP ammunition is a valuable addition to the Typhoon's capability, especially when coupled with the proper software for land attack, rolling out now with the current program of Typhoon enhancements. This includes gun strafing modes.  

But all the rest is not pleasant. The dates are all uncomfortable. And this is before further delays happen, obviously. In particular, the AESA radar is likely to suffer further slippages, as there is no contract at all agreed by the partner nations with the Euroradar consortium. Only hopes that drag themselves forwards, year on year, barely alive.
Paveway IV integration is ongoing by a long time, and it is depressing to see that ISD is still so far away. I don't think there's any other case in the whole world where the integration of a 500 lbs bomb and its release to service take so damn long.

There is a contract signed for the integration of Meteor on the Typhoon, finally. The document was only signed last June, buring the Paris air show. The 2018 ISD for Meteor represent the hundredth slippage of the intended entry into service of this new air-to-air missile. In the NAO Major Projects report 2012, the ISD for the missile was described as:

The first Front Line Unit is declared Operational with at least (CONF)*** missiles and having demonstrated achievement of In-Service Date 2 Key Performance Measures.

and was scheduled for June 2017, after having been planned for 2015. Earlier still, the ISD had been planned for 2012. 
The extent of the delays to Meteor has been so great that the RAF has had to maintain a stock of AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles for use on the Typhoon, which would otherwise have entered service without a medium/long range AA weapon. The OSD for AMRAAM has had to be pushed to the right already twice, and the NAO notes that the AIM-120 missiles could exhuaust their intended shelf life before the replacement is delivered.

There is some risk that part of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile stocks will not endure until the revised In-Service Date and hence we may fall below the minimum required stockpile liability, although this cannot be confirmed at present.

As far as i know, the Storm Shadow and Brimstone situation could be even worse. Their integration has suffered constant delays in the years, and there is not yet a signed contract, which means that further delays are more than possible.
Storm Shadow, however, should begin test flights on the Typhoon this year, thanks to Saudi Arabia's money and requests. Hopefully, at least the (ridiculous) 2018 target will be met.

The Brimstone 2020 ISD is an even greater problem, as the Tornado GR4, the only platform currently employing the missile, will be retired from RAF service by the end of March 2019, meaning that even in the best case scenario, there will be another gap (the hundredth) in the capabilities of the british armed forces. Any further delay would make the situation even worse. The Typhoon is due to receive the Brimstone 2, the new variant, in development, of the successful Brimstone Dual Mode, comprising a new, more lethal and multipurpose insensitive-munition (IM) compliant warhead and IM rocket motor.

It is expected that the Typhoon will be used, possibly as early as next year, as the platform for the flight tests of the SPEAR 3 missile, a new weapon in development specifically for use on (and into, crucially) the F35. It would be a nice addition to the Typhoon's capability, but there seem to be no plan for integration, and judging from the other weapons, it would take a decade anyway...

The Conformal Fuel Tanks aren't mentioned among the milestones, but one has to hope that they will be adopted at some point, because Storm Shadow, despite early promises, seem to only be compatible with the two "wet" underwing pylons. Which means that, in order to carry the larger cruise missile, Typhoon must do away with external tanks, dramatically reducing its fuel load and, consequently, its strike range. CFTs would remedy to this problem.

There is a very real risk (and in some cases, a certainty) that important capabilities will be (at least) gapped as the Tornado GR4 force is swiftly reduced, then wholly removed from service in March 2019. The RAPTOR high-definition imaging reconnaissance pod has not a planned future after the withdrawal of Tornado, and a replacement is not in sight. For a while at least, there might not be the capability to fire Brimstone missiles. And further delays are always possible, which would make everything even worse.
By April 2014, two of the five Tornado GR4 squadrons will be disbanded: 617 Sqn and 12(B) Sqn will go, with the first scheduled to move onto the JSF program to work up to become the first british, frontline F35B squadron.
It will 2016 before the squadron stands up again, in the US, on the MCAS Beaufort airbase, and 2018 before it moves to Marham, in the UK, and achieves an initial combat capability. A second F35B squadron, with navy colors, will stand up later on, with the plan yet to be finalized and announced.

With the fifth squadron on Typhoon to stand up only in 2015, it means that next year the RAF will be down to just 7 frontline squadrons (four on Typhoon, three on Tornado GR4) and only in 2015 will return to 8 (5 + 3).
The consistency of the frontline fleet will further drop in 2019, when the remaining Tornado squadrons disbanded. It is seen as highly likely that, during 2019 and 2020 at least, the UK will be lining a paltry six frontline squadrons of combat jets (5 Typhoon, 1 on F35B) rising to seven possibly within 2023.

Some time ago, it was suggested that the Tranche 1 Typhoons could be kept into the 2020s, to sustain a sixth and perhaps even a seventh squadron, to keep up the number of frontline fast jets formations. It does not seem to be the plan. The suggestion would appear to have been turned down, if it ever was seriously made within the RAF.
That means retiring 52 Typhoons aging just about 10 years each, while cutting, in the next six years, the number of combat squadrons from 9 to 6.
Before the SDSR 2010, the combat squadrons were 12 (3 Typhoon, 2 Harrier, 7 Tornado GR4), and this means that, in less than ten years, the consistency of the UK's fast jet force will have been brutally halved. And despite promises of possible "additional F35 orders", it is hard to see the force being in the position to argue for the regrowth of combat squadrons if the number is allowed to drop so much, so quickly.

This Typhoon shows off its payload capability: from bottom to top, ASRAAM, Meteor, Storm Shadow, Brimstone 2, Meteors and 1000 liters fuel tank under belly, a SPEAR 3 rack, Taurus, Meteor, ASRAAM. In practice, for several more years, the only stores actually cleared for use on Typhoon are ASRAAM and the belly fuel tank.

Regardless of what you think of the airplane, Typhoon is a disaster under many points of view. It is taking ages to live up to its promises, a lot of its capability will continue to exist only on paper for many more years. It has sucked the MOD budget dry over decades, swallowing billions of pounds. And when the deliveries are completed, around 2018, the RAF will have taken 160 Typhoons without, on current plans, ever having more than 5 frontline squadrons. That's a combat force of 60 aircrafts, from a total order of 160.
For each frontline Typhoon squadron of 12 airplanes, if the retirement of the Tranche 1 between 2016 and 2019 goes ahead, the MOD will have procured and paid for 32 aircrafts. An abomination.



F35: 48 guaranteed. Maybe not.

The F35, in the meanwhile, is moving onwards. Main Gate 4 is due in the coming months. This is expected to mean approving the purchase of 14 jets, which will be used to form the first frontline squadron on the new type (617 Sqn).
The UK has so far received three airplanes, to be used for tests and evaluation. A fourth aircraft will be part of the LRIP 7 lot of production, and long lead orders have been placed for four more inside LRIP 8.
The fourteen jets to be now approved might or might not include these four. It is not clear yet.

17 Squadron has given up its Typhoons (moved to 41(R) Sqn) and has disbanded to move onwards towards an F35B role. Between late 2014 and early 2015, the squadron will stand up again, on Edwards AFB, in the USA, as Operational Evaluation Unit for the british F35B force. 617 Sqn is scheduled to stand up in 2016 as the first operational squadron, based on MCAS Beaufort, where the personnel will be trained and the squadron built up to strenght before it moves back to the UK in 2018.

Flightglobal reports that decisions on weapons integration will have to be made as well. Unfortunately, this part is not as clear as we'd like. SPEAR 3 is described as a replacement for Brimstone, and this is incorrect as they are two completely different weapon systems and will actually co-exist at least for part of their service life. The misunderstanding probably generates from the fact that all complex weapons programs in the air sector have been grouped under SPEAR (Selective Precision Effect At Range); with SPEAR Capability 1 covering development and improvements to the Paveway IV bomb, SPEAR Capability 2 covering the evolution of Brimstone, SPEAR Capability 3 being a whole new weapon primarily developed with the F35 in mind, and with SPEAR 4 being the planned mid-life upgrade to Storm Shadow, to be made in the early 2020s in collaboration with the french. 
Here is interesting to note the 24 number: in order to carry 24 SPEAR 3 missiles, the F35 will have to carry six quadruple racks, which means four will be carried externally, under the wings. This seems a wise approach.

Paveway IV, at least for now, is only being integrated for internal transport, which means just two bombs. Hopefully, this is only valid for Block 3 software, with an expansion to cover external pylons afterwards, because it would be a waste to ignore the other hardpoints.

The ASRAAM situation couldn't be more confused than it is. Once it was planned (who knows why) that it would be integrated for all-internal carriage, with four missiles to be fitted in the bays. This ridiculous arrangement, which would give a stealth load consisting of just four short-range AAM, in a sort of modern imitation of the Sea Harrier FSR1, was abandoned by 2008, with the decision to move to an integration plan comprising two internal and two external missiles.
Now, although it is not clearly explained, it seems we are down (as was to be expected, see my earlier reports on the complexities of using IIR, rail launched missiles from inside the weapon bays) to the sole external integration.

F35 sporting an internal load of 8 SPEAR 3 and two Meteor missiles. Sometime in the future. Hopefully...


The good but bad news of the day is that the MOD is still only hoping to have Meteor integrated as part of the release of the software Block 4 on the F35 fleet (not before 2020, indicatively). The news is good because it confirms that the MOD is working on it, but it is bad because, by this point, we should have much more than just hopes in hand.
One year ago, the US hoped to finalize the list of requirements for Block IV by March 2013, but it seems the target has been missed.
The delay in formulating a final request for Meteor integration might be partly due to difficult negotiations between UK and Italy: the two nations hope to share the Meteor integration costs on a 50:50 basis, but in Italy the F35 is a particularly sore political subject right now, and the italian MOD is probably having a tough time in getting a go ahead for this project.

Perhaps more worrisome is the news that even the 48 F35B order promised as part of the 10 year budget will actually be approved on at least two separate Main Gates: according to Flightglobal, a "Main Gate 5", planned for around 2017 is "expected to approve the remaining balance of the first tranche of F-35 procurement."
In practice, if Main Gate 4 approves the order of 14 airplanes, in addition to the 3+1+4 already delivered, ordered or pre-ordered, Main Gate 5 will have to confirm the order for the remaining 26 airplanes.

In the middle, in 2015, there's a Strategic Defence Review. And they never seem to deliver good news.

25 comments:

  1. Another concise but depressing post, Gabriele. I didn't realise that Tornado would be down to 3 squadrons next year. They should have kept Harrier, scrapped Tornado and spent some of the saving on getting these weapons on Typhoon. I believe Harrier could use Paveway IV and would have had Brimstone in 2011/2012.

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    1. Harrier definitely had Paveway IV, could employ a recce pod, and had been working towards the release to service of Brimstone. But the cuts in harrier squadrons in 2008/09 had made the Harrier force too small to be viable. The Harrier death was engineered years before it actually happened, and the RAF was a great force in shaping this long death. I know this observation gains me the hate of RAF supporters, but it is true. It has always been crystal clear that the RAF always directed cuts to Harrier, not to Tornado.
      Harrier would have gone at least two years earlier, already in 2008. It gained a last breath just because the first sea lord threatened to resign if the RAF went ahead.

      By 2010, resisting any further proved impossible.

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    2. Hi Gabriele,

      Another good post.

      I agree, we should have kept the Harrier and let the Tornado go.

      I assume the RAF are looking at the F35 to replace the Typhoon?

      Regards
      Phil

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    3. Why Tornado is much better than Harrier, but it doesn't surprise me the it wasn't build here syndrome...

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    4. You're absolutely right Gabriele that the seeds of the Harriers demise were sown before 2010, by that point their wasn't really a choice in the matter.

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  2. what are the biggest success stories of british procuremnt? It seems like the best thing to happen to the typhoon (in terms of PR) is the f35, as thats constant cost rises and delays have made the typhoon look alot better by comparison, and it now is seen as the more austere and sensible alternative to the f35, wheras a few years ago it was routinely being mocked for its cost overruns and limited skillset (it still is being mocked, but more by people in the know, the papers are more focused on f35)

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    1. You mean the "constant cost increases" which from LRIP-5 to LRIP-6 have decreased by 4% and from LRIP-6 to LRIP-7 by another 4%?

      Unsurprisingly as production increases, unit cost decreases, who would have thought . . . . . .

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  3. In my humble opinion as a relatively uniformed civy, we should have gone for the Gripen, used the saved money to keep Tornado / Harrier going and waited for F35 to mature. Any thoughts?

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  4. Agree it does not read particularly well. The only comfort I take is that Tranche 1 a/c are due to be retired starting in 2016 rather than by 2016. Also "full" ASEA capability by 2010. Lots of wiggle room in the words...

    Odd numbers on the F35B though. Perhaps the first sqd will have 18 frames + 4 OCU? Or two sqds of 9 frames as like the Harrier used to be.As the public statement is that the CVF will always operate with a min of 12 a/c doesn't seem to add up.

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    1. The F35B squadron should be 12-strong, but in addition to that there will apparently be an OEU with the first three (four?) jets delivered to the UK.
      In terms of OCU, for a long time the plan has been that the UK would contribute 6 F35B to the US Marines squadron 501 "Warlords", training squadron for the F35B.

      The first order of 14 (plus 4 plus 1 plus 3?) might cover the first frontline squadron, the 6-strong OCU flight and the OEU, i guess. Hard to say.

      As for the Tranche 1, i don't see much relief in that, as before it was "retirement before 2015 and 2019". At best, it seems to have been delayed by one year...

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    2. I'm really not confident that the order for 14 is going to be plus the 4 that should be part of LRIP 8. From what I have read, BK-1, BK-2 and BK-4 will be the OEU, while BK-3 will stay at Elgin until it moves to Beaufort. Then in 2016 it will join 617 squadron along with the other 14 that are to be ordered.

      I can't actually find the original article where I read it, but thought it was on aviation week.

      However Janes also report that BK-3 will join the other 14 that are to be ordered, in 617 squadron.

      http://www.pprune.org/military-aircrew/424953-f-35-cancelled-then-what-110.html

      The other article that I read, also said that BK-3 isn't a instrumented aircraft, which is the reason that it will join the operational squadron. It also reported that BK-4 will be a instrumented aircraft.

      While not being the original article that I read, this one does seem to also report that BK-4 will be a instrumented aircraft and will join BK-1 and BK-2:

      http://www.aviationweek.com/article.aspx?id=/article-xml/asd_02_13_2013_p03-01-548301.xml&p=2

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    3. That's interesting, thank you. It does look like BK-4, and not BK-3, will be the third jet in the OEU.

      On the 14-aircraft order, i sincerely don't know. I think at the moment pretty much everything is about guessing. We won't know for sure until there's a clear announcement (if there even is one).

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  5. It was interesting to read just how bad the performance of the Typhoon program has been, sucking the MoD dry of cash, missing milestones/performance etc. You could take that analysis and double it for the F-35 program in the US. It's ironic that the poor performing Typhoon program is to be replaced by an even poorer performing program, the F-35! That doesn't bode well for an already depleted UK military. The USAF is going out of business with F-22/F-35. Maybe we all need to start taking Mandarin lessons?

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  6. Anonymous

    The real issue right now is not the performance of either the Typhoon or F35 programs. Neither will be a success if the UK does not integrate its weapons and/or insists on buying unintegrated weapons.

    The Americans are sorting their end. It isn't a program issue as such much more a UK government (and Bae as it is THEIR dinner that needs the butter) issue.

    It makes me really angry. This isn't protecting the realm. This isn't sensible industrial policy. In fact it is madness, utter stupidity.

    Opinion3

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  7. A very depressing read Gabriele.

    I can't believe how long it is taking to get the Typhoon fully integrated and up-to date, as you say most of the systems have been around for years and shouldn't be that problematic or costly to sort out. It is indeed ludicrous that under current plans the fleet will only be at full capability less than 10 years before they are due for retirement, that's just not OK!

    What's the reason? Is it a case of waiting for our European partners to pull their fingers out (which will be a long wait!) or is it down to short-sighted penny pinching?

    It's a real shame that the tranche 1's will be scrapped so early. Just a few months ago I was hoping that the rumor of their retention was true, that the RAF may have been able to keep 8 or 9 fast-jet squadrons in service and that they were finally learning to prioritize what they have now (and what they have paid through the nose for) and not on what they may get further down the line.

    It could be a phenomenal aircraft, but you're right....with the current situation of ditching air-frames that are 10 years old and waiting an age for pretty standard equipment it's an abomination!

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    1. I sincerely don't even dare to imagine at this point. It just is unprecedented, and i can't understand it. It can't take so frigging long to get Paveway IV or Brimstone integrated, it is ridiculous. Penny pinching by all the partner nations explains many of the delays until now, but with Saudi Arabia money and requests coming in, if the UK had the budget and will to go on, it should be possible to achieve results in much shorter time.
      Yet, apparently, that's not going to happen.

      The way the Eurofighter consortium work, spreading every job over to the industries of four nations, is not helping, i fear. It slows down and bloats testing time and costs.
      Whatever it is that is causing everything to move in such a slow fashion, it is unacceptable.

      "Typhoon 2020", as Eurofighter says, is just today's capability, 7 years late.
      AESA radar, conformal fuel tanks, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Paveway IV are nothing new. It's astonishing thet they even dare putting forwards dates like these: Dassault is having a laugh at it, with good reasons. France is alone working on the Rafale, yet it is doing SO DAMN BETTER.

      Really, i find the whole thing monstrous, personally.

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    2. Personally I think Defence Focus is just going with the most cautious dates. It also doesn't say if those dates are for initial operational capability or full operation capability. If they are fore initial then they aren't as bad as is being made out.

      P1E phase B/ Service Release Proposal (SRP) 12 (so Paveway IV capability) is meant to be finished by the end of the year. So I take it that then the RAF will start to update the Typhoons with it. It isn't beyond expectations to expect it to be sometime in 2015 before they are all updated.

      Also Air Vice Marshal Ed Stringer says that Storm Shadow will be on Typhoon sooner than anyone thinks. It seems that Saudi money is really pushing it forward, with it meant to start flight tests before the end of the year. I've also read some articles that state that the Saudi's expect it to be operational by 2015, but have been pushing for next year.

      http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/ain-defense-perspective/2013-07-26/middle-east-customers-funding-eurofighter-upgrades

      Either way, really I think in a time when money is very limited, it makes sense to take our time with these things. They aren't urgent in any way. Even after next year, with only 3 Tornado squadrons, we will still be able to deploy one tornado squadron. It is very unlikely that outside a major event that we would deploy more than two fast jet squadrons. So one Tornado that can fire our full set of weapons and one squadron of Typhoons that cover air superiority and some ground attack, should cover nearly any need. However if there is a urgent need for the Typhoons to be able to fire the rest of the weapons, then I would expect the whole program to be rapidly speeded up, and it wouldn't be long before they were cleared.

      So in my view we should focus on things that are really needed. Sure it would be great for the Typhoon to be cleared to use all the weapons, but it's not going to have much operational effect for them not to be able to for a few more years.

      In my view the weapon that should be speeded up is Meteor, after that the AESA radar and the conformal tanks.

      The one thing worrying is the Brimestone, if 2020 is really the initial operating date. Hopefully it is really the full operating date. If it is the initial then hopefully (and I would expect) that it would be brought forward. But once again in a emergency then I'm sure it could be speeded up greatly.

      I'm not actually saying that in a idea world that all these wouldn't have already been cleared. Just that we have more urgent things to worry about. I would rather them take their time, than to have to make cuts somewhere else so they could speed things up.

      The one area that this slow speed has most likely had a effect is in export sales of Typhoon. But then we have to ask, is it the job of the RAF to prioritise things just so that BAE and the partners companies can make some more sales. Really it should be the companies that are making sure the aircraft is cleared to use a full set of ground attack weapons, if that is what international customers want. If not them, then it would have the be the partner governments working together, but they seem to work at a even slower speed than the RAF.

      I also really doubt that Typhoon will go out of service in 2030. There just isn't a replacement in sight for it. I really don't see the F-35 being able to replace it. Especially not in the air superiority role. Everyone argues about if the F-35 will be good or not, but I don't think anyone seriously argues that it is going to be a air superiority fighter. If it really doesn't stand up as a air superiority fighter in 2013, then it isn't going to be able to fit that role in the 2030s. If the Typhoon would be good enough still in the 2030 is a valid question, but it will be better than the F-35.

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    3. The dates should hopefully be about full ISD. Initial use of the weapons should, again hopefully, begin up to two years earlier. This, however, isn't all that good, because IOC normally relates to a very restricted number of airplanes, and even more so to a very small pool of crews.

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  8. I have followed this blog for some time, and am trying to square this latest report from the MOD with what's actually happening on the ground with the Drop series of upgrades for typhoon tranche1. I know that the MoD is not above retiring airframes recently upgraded, but I cannot credit they would sanction a series of upgrades in the full knowledge that the airframes in question would in theory start to be retired in less than three years. As I understand it, Drop 3 or Tranche1 EP1 is on schedule to be rolled out across the four core nations in 2015; how does this square with the retirement of tranche 1? Moreover, much play has beern made of the Drop upgrades in RAF pr material. Could this latest newsletter been put together by someone simply following the current 'official' position, that can't for political reasons reflect the recent rumours of the retention of tranche 1? I would be very interested in any further comments or info from those who might have further knowledge.
    Paul

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    1. The DROPS are the only bit of hope left.

      Combat Aircraft Monthly wrote in the same terms some time ago, saying that while the official line remains that there will only be five squadrons, with the Tranche 1 soon retired, the unofficial thinking behind RAF doors was that a return to a seven squadrons Typhoon force was very desirable.

      Is it going to happen, though? I'm sincerely losing my hopes. On his blog, the commander of RAF Station Lossiemouth sticks to the official line. In an exchange of comments with me, he said that retiring the Tranche 1 is likely to be seen as more cost effective than continuing to try to keep them up to date.

      Another key issue is that DROPS apparently cannot solve the weaponry problem, so that the Tranche 1 is likely limited to Paveway II and AMRAAM, without the chance to move on with the rest of the force to Paveway IV and Meteor unless more money is committed for more complex and significant upgrades. If this is the case, the chance of seeing them retained pretty much goes down to zero.

      The RAF might have better chances in reverting the planned decision to disband a third Tornado GR4 squadron in 2015, keeping three instead of two squadrons out to 2019. Going down to just two squadrons while Typhoon is still incapable to use Storm Shadow and Brimstone would be a big issue.
      It's hard to say what we can realistically hope for.

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  9. 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.

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    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. 7 squadrons. That's all. And one of those will be at IOC, at most.

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    2. Well that's the fifth frontline Typhoon squadron announced. I guess the question is what happens next?

      I think the timetable you quote from Defence Focus is indicative of some sort of change of heart about the withdrawal of earlier Typhoons. Previously it had been stated that tranche 1 aircraft would be withdrawn from 2015 thus implying that the fifth frontline squadron would be the last new unit. But here we have a date of 2016. Why?

      Perhaps the clue is in how many Typhoons will be in service by that date. At present the first tranche 3 aircraft is undergoing flight trials so that's aircraft number 120 for the RAF (53 tranche 1 + 67 tranche 2 - 1 crash). Production is scheduled to run at about eight a year to the end of 2018 when without more export orders the production line will have to close.

      So by the time II Squadron gets its Typhoons the RAF will have about 129 aircraft. This is more than enough to equip 5 frontline, 2 reserve squadrons and a flight so why isn't it being set up earlier? My guess is that's due to a steady number of older Typhoons rolling through BAe Systems undergoing various Phase 2 Enhancements. (Incidentally the work on Storm Shadow, Meteor and the radar all seems to have accelerated in recent months - perhaps due to Saudi money and the potential for more exports?)

      According to press releases these enhancements are meant to be concluded by the end of 2015 so by mid 2016 the RAF should have 139 aircraft. That should be enough to support a sixth frontline squadron - 6x16 in frontline service + 22 two-seaters & 16 single-seaters in two reserve squadrons plus 4 aircraft in the Falklands = a requirement for 138.

      So I think it's looking increasingly likely that there'll be another Typhoon unit in 2016.

      After that it gets a bit harder to say what will happen next as it will depend on the defence budgets of the next government, the international picture and most especially what's going on with the F-35B. The recent announcement that the software to enable this plane to fight won't be ready until at least 2017 is deeply worrying.

      On the grounds of cost, delays in the F-35B and the Typhoon itself finally being able to offer its full potential there has to be at least some chance that what will be the final frontline Tornado squadron could be withdrawn a year earlier than planned in 2018 and replaced with a seventh frontline Typhoon squadron.

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  10. Have you noticed that in the latest press release for 617 squadron the MoD is openly saying that it won't be re-formed with F-35Bs until 2018 (four years after it loses its Tornados!) Perhaps its finally a recognition from the UK government that the software for this aircraft to actually be able to fight is running horrendously late. Now there's a real capability gap opening up as even if 617 re-forms in the US in 2018 it won't be back at Marham until 2019.

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    1. The squadron stands up again in 2016, but it was always going to be at least 2018 before it was actually equipped to do something. Land IOC has long been set in 2019, and that's before any additional delay happens. In 2018 the squadron is projected to have at most 9 aircraft in Marhma (as of October 2013) for the trials, both on land and on the carrier.

      In other words, nothing actually new.

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