The Eurofighter Typhoon's debut combat experience with the Royal Air Force over Libya during 2011 and its recent first involvement in a "Red Flag" exercise in the USA have helped to inform a reassessment of its future potential while being flown alongside the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, senior officials from the service say.
The Libya campaign of 2011 saw the first combat use of the UK's multi-role Typhoon
RAF Typhoons dropped more than 200 Raytheon Enhanced Paveway II 454kg (1,000lb) laser-guided bombs over Libya, working in cooperation with Panavia Tornado GR4s. By the time of the Red Flag manoeuvres staged in February-March 2013, however, the type was able to perform full swing-role missions as part of a formation also involving the stealthy Lockheed F-22 Raptor.
"The US Air Force now sees that the Typhoon is over-delivering, and sets interesting challenges in training exercises," says RAF assistant chief of the air staff Air Vice-Marshal Edward Stringer. "Multi-role [Typhoon] is now being taken very seriously by other air forces and governments around the world."
"Typhoon can't be pigeonholed - we had been guilty of that as pilots," says Wg Cdr Rich Wells, officer commanding the RAF's Eurofighter-equipped 11 Sqn, which sent nine aircraft to the recent exercise. "Red Flag was a real eye-opener about how we should think about Typhoon. Now we've started to take the handcuffs off."
With the UK's last Tornado GR4s due to leave service by late this decade, attention is now being given to how the RAF will use the Typhoon in combination with its future F-35s. The service on 18 July announced that its Tornado GR4-equipped 617 Sqn is to be disbanded in April 2014, before reforming in 2016 as the first UK unit to operate the F-35 Lightning II. To have a mix of air force and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm personnel, the squadron will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, following an initial period of training to be performed at Edwards AFB, California.
"We already know what the next epoch in combat air will be; a way of operating fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft that is completely different," Stringer said during a media briefing at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 19 July. "It's quite exciting to see what we will be able to do with Eurofighter and JSF together."
The RAF's 29 Sqn provided the display Typhoon at RIAT
One key consideration for the combination will be the introduction of additional capabilities for the UK's Eurofighters. Stringer says that some future weapon system enhancements could happen "sooner than you think," noting: "we are looking to accelerate when some of the capabilities will go onto the jet."
The RAF will soon gain the ability to use Raytheon Systems' Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, and other additions should include the Brimstone air-to-surface weapon, Storm Shadow cruise missile and Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile, all produced by MBDA. Some of this work will be as a result of "a partnership with other Typhoon customers", Stringer says.