NATO’s Operation Unified Protector has given the Eurofighter Typhoon the opportunity to finally make its combat debut, with both the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and Italian air force aircraft involved in the operation. RAF operations over Libya have been mounted by a six-aircraft detachment at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, from where they are operating alongside 12 Panavia Tornado GR.Mk 4s.
The RAF Typhoons have been flying both air-supremacy and air-interdiction sorties. The latter missions are flown in mixed pairs with Italian air force Tornados, the combined formation offering flexibility in weapon options through the carriage of 1,000-pound Enhanced Paveway IIs (EPWIIs) by the Typhoons, and 500-pound Paveway IVs and Brimstone by the Tornados. The Typhoons generally operate with pairs of advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), advanced short-range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAMs) and EPWIIs, plus two tanks and a Litening III laser designator pod.
Typhoon missions average 5.5 hours, with a number of refuelings. Owing to the large number of tanker types deployed by NATO to support Operation Unified Protector, this can be one of the most challenging aspects of the mission.
“Getting fuel is a challenge as each tanker is different, and diverting to Malta is a real possibility every time you fly,” said Squadron Leader Rupert Joel, Executive Officer of No. 11 Squadron. “Every mission is like the hardest trail you’ve ever done, plus you’re dropping bombs.”
Strict rules of engagement in place to minimize the chances of civilian casualties place further stress on the pilots. “For every target we need to positively identify it and look at potential collateral damage,” explained Joel. “Because we have to do things so carefully it can take 20 or 25 minutes before we get weapons away. Even with time-sensitive targets we still need to go through the process.”
Operating the Typhoons alongside Tornados has proven beneficial to both sets of crews. The Typhoon brings a superb air-to-air radar picture, Link 16 connectivity and a highly effective defensive aids suite to the mix, while the Tornado force has many years of experience in the air-to-ground role, unlike the Typhoon community.
Squadron Leader Joel commented that most dual-mode weapons have been launched in GAINS (GPS-aided inertial navigation system) mode, and that any laser guidance that has been employed has been mostly provided by the Tornados.
The question of whether the Typhoon has self-designated laser weapons in the Libyan operation yet was left unanswered, and no comment was made about whether previously reported cutbacks in training had left RAF pilots short of air-to-ground currency at the outbreak of operations.