The UK Royal Air Force could be as little as four to five months from having its Paveway IV precision-guided bombs fully qualified through the entire Eurofighter Typhoon flight envelope, for carriage using all six of the aircraft’s under-wing carriage points.
New work by Raytheon UK has lifted the remaining Typhoon and Panavia Tornado GR4 flight envelope restrictions for a weapon that was originally developed for the less aerobatic BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9.
Now, Raytheon UK chief weapons engineer T J Marsden says necessary aircraft-level qualification work by Typhoon prime contractor BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence could be completed within months.
The Ministry of Defence says: “Raytheon UK has successfully completed a re-qualification programme for Paveway IV, and the results are now being assessed by the MoD and partners.”
The RAF's Tornado GR4s also have no restrictions on carriage of up to five Paveway IVs, as used during the Libya campaign in 2011. At that time, the strike aircraft faced “a couple of restrictions” on carriage configuration, says Marsden, who adds that Saudi Arabia also is “interested” in adopting Paveway IV for its Typhoon and Tornado fleets.
Marsden says that while the nimble Typhoon and Tornado put far more stress on carried Paveways than the weapon was designed to withstand, its requalification work showed the bomb to be suitable without modification for even the most extreme manoeuvres by the Typhoon. The work also shows the Paveway IV can be carried without restriction by the Typhoon throughout the weapon’s 20-year storage life.
The Typhoon requalification is an important step in the RAF’s ongoing push to have the aircraft ready to take on the complete range of Tornado air-to-ground mission capabilities, by the time that the venerable type is retired in 2019.
Briefing journalists at Raytheon UK’s Glenrothes, Scotland facility, which is at the end of a 12-month transition period during which it has taken on manufacturing work previously done at Harlow, Essex, the company’s chief weapons engineer added that the MoD has also “expressed a lot of interest” in Paveway IV for its General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper fleet. The remotely piloted air system may also get the smaller, MBDA-made Brimstone ground-attack weapon.
Speaking at Glenrothes, Wg Cdr Dicky Patounas, who led the RAF's 3 Sqn during the Libya campaign and flew numerous missions in one of its 10 deployed Typhoons, said flying mixed ships with Tornados proved hugely valuable. In many cases, he said, a Typhoon’s Paveway II laser-guided bombs would have caused unacceptable collateral damage, but flying alongside a Brimstone-equipped Tornado allowed the delivery of a smaller weapon.