Paris Air Show

Can Typhoon Still Win Orders in the Era of the F-35?

 - June 17, 2019, 1:24 AM
Development of Eurofighter’s Typhoon began in the 1980s, well before stealth technologies evolved.

Typhoon marketing once relied on promises about the type’s potential, and about capabilities that were "coming soon" or just around the corner. But today, those tasked with selling the Typhoon can point to technologies and systems that are already flying on the aircraft, to weapons that are already in frontline service, and to capabilities that have been combat proven. Some believe that this has come too late, with the aircraft now facing competition from "stealthy" fifth-generation rivals, and not just from its non-stealthy contemporaries. Others point to the fact that many of the world’s leading air forces have come to realize that a synergistic mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters may represent a better, more effective and more cost-efficient means of delivering combat performance than a force of fifth-generation fighters alone, and that some late fourth-generation fighters offer compelling advantages in terms of performance, payload, and combat persistence.

The fact that the Typhoon initially entered service as an air-to-air fighter reflected the initial priorities of its original core customers, and was never an inherent limitation, and the Typhoon displayed at Paris this year is a versatile multi-role and swing-role tactical fighter. The aircraft’s formidable air-to-ground capabilities have been proven in combat (and are being used in ongoing combat operations), even while its class-leading air-to-air capabilities are being expanded and improved.

The RAF’s Typhoons gained an initial austere air-to-ground capability more than 10 years ago, using 1,000-pound Paveway II (PWII) Laser-Guided Bombs (LGBs) and Enhanced Paveway II (EPWII) dual-mode bombs and an Ultra-built Litening 3 Laser Designator Pod (LDP). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia paired the PWII and EPWII with the Thales Damocles LDP to gain an initial air-to-ground capability. The RAF used its Typhoons during Operation Ellamy over Libya in 2011, while Saudi Arabia used its Typhoons against targets in Yemen during Operations Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope.

Typhoon air-to-ground capabilities were expanded by the integration of the 500-pound Raytheon UK Paveway IV dual-mode bomb and of MBDA’s Storm Shadow long-range stealthy cruise missile and the same company’s precision-guided Brimstone 2. Typhoons have now used both Paveway IV and Brimstone 2 in combat as part of Operation Shader, the UK’s participation in multi-national operations against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) in Iraq and Syria. Brimstone 2 is claimed to be the only air-launched low-fragmentation fire-and-forget weapon in the allied inventory that is effective against moving targets.

Integration of the Storm Shadow and Brimstone formed part of the UK’s Centurion upgrade, together with the Meteor BVR air-to-air missile, which is also now in full frontline service, and which has been carried during UK QRA scrambles against intruding Russian military aircraft. German Eurofighters now use the 1,000-pound (450-kg) Raytheon GBU-48 (a dual-mode version of the Paveway II, also known as the EGBU-16), and the Trojan Improved Penetrator, and may soon be armed with Boeing’s GBU-54 Laser JDAM, while Italy and Spain also use the EGBU-16 with semi-active laser and GPS-aided inertial guidance.

Both Eurofighter and NETMA, the NATO management agency responsible for the Eurofighter program, have worked hard to ensure that future weapons integrations will be much quicker, allowing the program to react in a more agile fashion to the requirements of export customers. Recently, a number of unguided free-fall bombs from 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds (Mk 82, 83 and 84) have been cleared on the aircraft to meet Kuwaiti requirements. Kuwaiti aircraft will also use the Lockheed Martin Sniper laser-designator pod rather than Litening or Damocles. Several anti-ship missiles have been fit-checked and wind-tunnel tested on the Typhoon, including the AGM-84 Harpoon, the Saab RBS15, and the MBDA Marte-ER. The latter are believed to form part of the weapons package being supplied with Qatar’s new Typhoons.

However, the Typhoon story is about much more than the integration of new weapons. At Paris, the industry team behind the aircraft is expected to highlight the Typhoon’s open/reprogrammable mission data—long held to be one of the aircraft’s major competitive advantages, but one that has been little talked about until now. Leonardo may also brief about Typhoon’s Electronic Warfare capabilities, especially after the May announcement that BriteCloud has been tested and released for the first time from an RAF Typhoon. BriteCloud is an expendable active radar missile decoy that is the size of a soda-can and that can be fired from standard chaff/flare dispensers. After an initial firing in April, RAF Typhoons have dispensed some 33 BriteCloud 55 rounds from aircraft flown by No. 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron against a range of threats. Full service entry is expected later this year.

While the four “core nations” have conspicuously failed to sign up to acquire an AESA radar for their Typhoon fleets so far, aircraft for Kuwait and Qatar will incorporate E-Scan radar technology. Euroradar has secured production contracts for 28 E-scan radars from Eurofighter/Leonardo Aircraft as the prime contractor for Kuwait and from BAE Systems for the 24 E-Scan radars for Qatar.

The Captor-E radar has flown in production standard form on two test aircraft, Instrumented Production Aircraft (IPA) 5 at BAE Systems Warton, and on IPA8 at Airbus Defence and Space in Manching, and passed its Critical Design Review (CDR) exactly on schedule. The design has been frozen, and software has been developed and matured through flight-testing using production standard hardware.

Hensoldt has delivered the first antennas to Leonardo UK in Edinburgh to allow series production to begin, and Leonardo are confident that radar deliveries to the prime contractors will allow the radar to be fully integrated with the Eurofighter weapons system in time for aircraft for Kuwait and Qatar to have E-Scan radar fitted from day one, and the Euroradar companies (Leonardo, Hensoldt and Indra) hope that the Eurofighter partner nations will soon commit to procuring Captor-E in its Radar One Plus guise for their own Eurofighter fleets, allowing radar production to follow on from deliveries for Kuwait and Qatar.

The radar used by Kuwaiti and Qatari Typhoons is known as Radar One Plus and this standard also forms the basis of the four-nation AESA radar development program, which will use the same hardware and will have the same performance, although additional documentation and performance data will be required by NETMA.