There’s a quiet revolution going on. After years of degradation, ‘mass’ is a word that is finally gaining traction when it comes to fighter squadrons. Slowly but surely, the argument for increased capability and numbers is being heard and understood by the financiers. The new emphasis of tackling high-end, near-peer adversaries has brought into focus chronic under investment in what the UK is calling ‘combat air’. Alongside requisite ‘mass’ — the numbers of aircraft and, more importantly, squadrons, required to maintain a credible deterrent to an advanced threat — comes the technology battle. It’s vital that these squadrons field equipment and manpower that leads the way when it comes to overall capability.
The Royal Air Force is going through a transformation. This combines addressing the devastating cuts of 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in terms of the numbers game, but is establishes a true, high-end, fighting force. The SDSR of 2015 unveiled plans to retain a number of early Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoons that were planned to be retired this year, to equip an additional pair of front line squadrons. Furthermore, in January the UK Ministry of Defence announced Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for both its new Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning, as well as with the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Project ‘Centurion’, which cements this aircraft’s status as the cornerstone of the RAF’s fast jet fleet.
No XI (Fighter) Squadron, based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, was at the forefront of this transformation, as Wg Cdr Paul ‘Pablo’ O’Grady, explains. ‘‘Centurion’ has brought the Storm Shadow [cruise missile] and Brimstone [air-launched ground-attack missile] to the Typhoon. It also gives us Meteor and its advanced beyond visual range [air-to-air] capability, plus some fantastic upgrades to improve the way we operate the jet.’
The Typhoon of 2019 is a very different beast to the early production Tranche 1 aircraft that entered service in 2005. The aircraft has become a credible warfighter, bristling with an array of weapons, combat-proven and seemingly in a very good place. A vital piece of the puzzle has been to ensure that this multi-role fighter can be supported by its engineering teams and operated by a single pilot. There’s a lot going on in the cockpit for one person to manage. O’Grady says a variety of factors were allowed for when planning the leap forward that ‘Centurion’ offered.
With so many weapons sets — ASRAAM, AMRAAM, Meteor, Storm Shadow, Paveway IV, Brimstone, the 27mm cannon, and the Litening V targeting pod for Brimstone — the Typhoon cockpit has become a complex environment. Keeping pilots up to speed in all mission sets is carefully catered for in the way a squadron runs its readiness.
‘It means we have compartmentalized training,’ says O’Grady. ‘We can fulfill every role at any given time, but to greater or lesser degrees, depending on where we are in the cycle. Ultimately, we could be flying a CAS mission over Iraq and have to swing into a high-end air-to-air role, or launch a Storm Shadow strike anywhere in the world tomorrow, which means we have to ensure our tactics are totally effective. Additionally, the way in which we interact with the cockpit and our weapons must be as straightforward as possible. The RAF and industry have done an outstanding job when it comes to introducing Project ‘Centurion’, with all the weapons that come with it and all the mission sets we train to. A lot of effort is made upstream to ensure the end user receives a fantastic product.’
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