The UK Royal Air Force is considering the possible deployment of its Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role strike aircraft to Afghanistan from mid-2008, with the reinstatement of the aircraft's Mauser 27mm cannon a potentially vital weapon option for the mission, writes Craig Hoyle.
Senior RAF officers have set a deadline of 1 July 2008 for Typhoon-equipped 11 Sqn to achieve a multi-role operational employment date, with the unit having begun training activities at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire late last month.
"I have set them the challenge to be ready to deploy on the day that we have planned, and Afghanistan seems to be an enduring task," says Air Vice Marshal David Walker, air officer commanding the RAF's 1 Group, which oversees use of the service's strike aircraft fleets.
Walker and chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy stress that no final decision has been made on whether to send Typhoons to Kandahar airfield to replace the current Joint Force Harrier commitment to NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which is currently set to continue into 2009.
Another option could be to send the aircraft to operate over Iraq in place of the Panavia Tornado GR4, but Afghanistan appears to be the favoured theatre of operations to test the Typhoon's so-called austere ground-attack capabilities. Scheduled to receive clearance before year-end, this will introduce the Rafael Litening III targeting pod and 445kg (1,000lb) Raytheon Enhanced Paveway laser/GPS-guided bomb.
However, service interest has also increased with the reversal of a controversial earlier decision to prevent the use of the Typhoon's cannon, with this now viewed as offering significant utility in the air-to-surface arena.