The Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoons are to begin providing air policing cover for the southern UK from mid-year, with the operational milestone having moved a step closer with the successful conclusion of missile test firings early this month.

Typhoon F2 fighters from the RAF’s 3 Sqn – its first frontline unit to field the type – fired four MBDA ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missiles during the test campaign, which was conducted using the Aberporth weapons range off the west Wales coast between 26 February and 2 March. Flown from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, the aircraft successfully engaged flares released by Meteor Mirach target drones.

The Typhoon is scheduled to provide quick reaction alert (QRA) missions to protect UK airspace from mid-year, carrying an initial mix of ASRAAMs and medium-range Raytheon AIM-120C5 AMRAAMs. The RAF aircraft will also field MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile from the middle of next decade.

Typhoon with ASRAAM W445
© Geoff Lee / Eurofighter

Speaking during an exclusive interview with Flight at RAF Coningsby in early February, Wg Cdr Lol Bennett, Officer Commanding 3 Sqn, said: “There are no significant challenges for QRA. Eighteen months ago we had a huge task, but we’re over that.”

The RAF will initially alternate QRA duties between the F2 and its current Panavia Tornado F3 interceptors for periods of around one month each. This will enable it to deliver its new air policing commitments while also meeting Typhoon force training requirements, and represents “a pragmatic approach” to the QRA transition, says Typhoon Force Commander Gp Capt Stuart Atha.

Forty Typhoons have now amassed over 7,500 flight hours with the RAF’s 3 Sqn, 17 Sqn operational evaluation unit and 29 Sqn operational conversion unit. The service’s next frontline squadron to operate the type – 11 Sqn – will reform at Coningsby on 29 March, and will lead work to develop the Typhoon’s multirole capabilities for operational deployment from mid-2008.