A vital programme to transfer ground-attack capabilities from the UK Royal Air Force's retiring Panavia Tornado GR4s to the Eurofighter Typhoon remains on target to deliver by year-end, according to BAE Systems.
Dubbed Project Centurion, the work in early July progressed to RAF testing of updates that will enable the Typhoon to deploy MBDA's Brimstone air-to-surface missile. BAE completed development test flights with the latest software standard using instrumented production aircraft IPA6 on 4 July, says Andy Flynn, the company's delivery director for the activity. Pilots from the service's 41 Sqn test and evaluation unit began familiarisation flights from its Warton site in Lancashire the following day.
Around 65-75 sorties should be logged before an operational evaluation phase is scheduled to commence at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on 10 August. This will also include full firing trials with the precision-strike weapon.
Work to fully integrate Brimstone follows an earlier phase that covered adding MBDA's Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile and Storm Shadow cruise missile to the Typhoon's arsenal.
Flynn says the RAF is on course to declare its Centurion capability operational before the end of this year, with a squadron-strength force of modified aircraft and personnel to be available. Currently, 26 Typhoons have been upgraded for the Meteor and Storm Shadow fit in a process that also includes minor hardware modifications for weapons carriage. Approvals to begin operating these aircraft on the frontline are expected to be received within the coming months.
Other enhancements include making updates to the Typhoon's human/machine interface, which Flynn says simplifies the process of interacting with the weapons system. Centurion also makes increased use of the fighter's BAE-supplied Striker helmet-mounted sighting system, he notes.
"At the end of the year, we will have Typhoon in a position to take on all of the air capabilities that Tornado currently does," Flynn says. The RAF is due to retire the remainder of its GR4s by April 2019. Both types are currently employed as part of the UK's Operation Shader contribution to coalition operations over Iraq and Syria.