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UK to drive down Typhoon operating costs to match F-16

The UK Royal Air Force is to enhance the capability of its Eurofighter Typhoons by using money saved via a new in-service support model for the multirole type.

Dubbed the Typhoon total availability enterprise, or Tytan, the new, 10-year arrangement between the RAF and industry partners BAE Systems and Leonardo is expected to reduce the Typhoon's per-hour operating cost by 30-40%. This should equate to a saving of at least £550 million ($712 million), which "will be recycled into the programme", according to BAE Systems Military Air & Information managing director Chris Boardman.

Introduced one year ago at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, the Tytan framework is already delivering savings, and attracting "phenomenal" interest from other programmes, including Lockheed Martin's F-35, Boardman says. His goal is for the initiative to eventually result in the Typhoon having a per-hour operating cost "equivalent to a [Lockheed] F-16".

"You can't reduce cost by just using the same system," Boardman says. "We need to get more for less if we're going to push forward."

UK-specific initiatives already introduced via the Tytan contract include increasing the intervals between scheduled major maintenance activities, which will increase aircraft availability and reduce repair bills. Deep maintenance initially scheduled after every 400 flight hours has previously been extended to a 500h interval, and is expected to be stretched further to 750h.

Now in an advanced stage of assessment before being adopted, the "fundamental changes" will "stop things being taken apart, parts being consumed and people's time being consumed on maintenance activity that is not necessary under the current regime", Boardman says. This will involve industry taking "more risk and accountability" on required service intervals and parts ordering, he adds. BAE has previously embarked on a similar model with the Royal Saudi Air Force, he notes.

"We will take that saving and invest in keeping the aircraft relevant out to 2040," Boardman said at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 14 July.

Meanwhile, capability enhancements not linked to the Tytan activity are nearing availability on operational squadrons, says RAF Typhoon force commander Air Cdre Ian Duguid. The type's Phase 2 Enhancement (P2E) software standard is already in testing with the service's 41 Sqn test and evaluation unit, and will be available to the frontline early in 2018, he says. A subsequent P3E standard will follow later next year.

Key updates include additional weapons capability, in the guise of MBDA's Brimstone air-to-surface missile – which underwent a successful first firing from a Eurofighter on 13 July – Storm Shadow cruise missile and Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.

Under an associated project named Centurion, the RAF will transition strike capabilities with the Brimstone and Storm Shadow to the Typhoon ahead of the Panavia Tornado GR4's retirement in early 2019.

Duguid says the RAF's Typhoons have now flown more than 900 missions against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including working in concert with its Tornado GR4s. Both types are operating from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as part of the UK's Operation Shader contribution to a US-led coalition.

All five of the RAF's frontline Typhoon squadrons have been involved since operations began in December 2015, and Duguid notes: "Not one mission has been missed due to technical issues."

The RAF's Typhoon force is to be increased with the addition of two further squadrons – one each at Coningsby and Lossiemouth – which will be equipped with Tranche 1 production-standard fighters. Previously threatened with retirement, at least 24 of the jets will now be retained in use until 2030.

While a final decision has yet to be reached, operations with the Tranche 1 aircraft are likely to be dedicated to air-to-air duties, such as flying quick reaction alert sorties, while they also could support training activities, acting in an aggressor role. The UK currently has no funding allocated to enable the early production-standard aircraft to carry Meteor missiles, so they will continue to operate with Raytheon's AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Duguid says 10 Tranche 3 Typhoons are now operational with RAF squadrons, with the service having previously taken delivery of additional examples which have been placed into temporary storage.

In a further boost for the RAF's Typhoon force, defence minister Sir Michael Fallon has announced the signature of a £40 million contract which will upgrade the type's defensive aids subsystem equipment over the next two years. The update will "provide even stronger protection against evolving air-to-air and surface-to-air threats", he says.

And under a deal worth £9.5 million, Qinetiq will enable simulators at the RAF's two Typhoon operating bases to be linked with the Air Battlespace Training Centre at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, with "10 weeks of simulated battle training a year" to be supported.

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