The UK Ministry of Defence has published details of the latest combat missions in Operation ‘Shader’, the British commitment to the ongoing campaign against so-called Islamic State (IS). Following the liberation by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of the last territory held by IS in Syria, Royal Air Force aircraft have continued to fly daily armed reconnaissance missions in support of both the SDF and the Iraqi security forces to prevent attempts by the network to re-group.
RAF Typhoon FGR4s under the 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) provided close air support for SDF troops as they attacked the last remaining IS stronghold at Baghuz Fawqani in eastern Syria. On Tuesday March 12, the SDF came into contact with IS forces in dispersed positions, and two Typhoon FGR4s conducted a series of three attacks using a total of four Paveway IV guided bombs. In addition, a large number of vehicles had been abandoned in the area of the fighting, and one large truck in their midst was identified as having been booby-trapped with an improvised explosive device (IED). The Typhoons engaged the truck-bomb and destroyed it with a single Brimstone 2 missile.
Typhoons conducted a further attack on March 17, when the SDF came under fire at close range from a building held by IS in Baghuz Fawqani — with a single Paveway IV being employed. On Wednesday March 27, two Typhoons flying from RAF Akrotiri were tasked to assist Iraqi forces that had identified a set of caves used by IS in hilly terrain some 13 miles east of Bayji. The Typhoons were able to strike the two cave entrances with a Paveway IV apiece. In similar fashion, coalition intelligence efforts pinpointed a dispersed network of caves and tunnels in the hills 40 miles east-north-east of Tikrit, and two Typhoons were assigned to attack the six entrances on April 24 with Paveway IVs.
The MoD release is the first official acknowledgement of the use of the Typhoon’s new Brimstone capability, part of the so-called Phase 3 Enhancement (P3E) that completed the RAF’s Project ‘Centurion’. This upgrade has been well documented and it essentially included a suite of capabilities for the Typhoon. This was run under an ambitious three-year, £425-million, initiative to help ensure the fighter could effectively replace the Tornado GR4 as it exited service in March.
In 2014, Eurofighter signed an integration contract for the MBDA Storm Shadow standoff cruise missile under the so-called Phase 2 Enhancement (P2E). As well as Storm Shadow this completed integration of the long-awaited ‘big stick’ of the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), which had been in protracted trials. Further adding MBDA’s Brimstone under the follow-on P3Ea was essentially when Project ‘Centurion’ was born.
Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for ‘Centurion’ was announced in January. Speaking to Combat Aircraft at an event at RAF Marham, Air Cdre Paul Lloyd, head of the RAF’s fast air support team, and project team leader for ‘Centurion’, explained that declaring IOC was about the RAF being in possession of ‘a squadron’s worth of [upgraded] aircraft that could deploy operationally in that role and fit, with the support structure around it.’ He added: ‘It’s not just about the hardware, but also the people and training. Typhoon really is coming of age with P3Ea.’