U.K. Pushes On Typhoon Upgrades

The United Kingdom hopes to get Eurofighter partners to define and approve another major round of Typhoon upgrades by the second quarter of 2010 to ensure the capabilities start to reach operator hands in 2014.

A big ambition for Britain is to bolster the aircraft’s ground-attack capability. In particular, the Royal Air Force (RAF) wants to bring fielding of the Brimstone missile as far forward as possible within the upgrade cycle, according to the defense ministry’s assistant head of capability theater airspace, Group Capt. Tony Innes.

Fielding the Meteor missile will likely also be an early element of the so-called Future Capabilities Program 2 (FCP2, or alternatively known as Enhancement Program 2), largely because there is buy-in from all four partners. Introducing the capability to fire the Storm Shadow cruise missile from Typhoon will likely be a later element in what is expected to be a phased FCP2 effort.

Britain also remains interested in fielding an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, although the issue is decoupled from both FCP2 and fielding of Meteor. No decision has been made on the right industrial approach to address the interest in replacing the Captor-M radar with an AESA.

The United Kingdom is provisioning its Tranche 3 aircraft to handle an AESA, while other countries are still debating the issue. Whether an AESA would be retrofitted on Tranche 2 aircraft (the first seven are now in RAF hands) also is not settled.

Industry officials have indicated they want to have firm proposals for the AESA and other upgrade programs ready for customers by year’s end.

The RAF Tranche 3 aircraft also are being prepared to use conformal fuel tanks, which are viewed as attractive once new weapons are fielded that would bar the use of external fuel tanks.

For the United Kingdom, capability upgrades are front and center, with the Tranche 3A buy just put on contract potentially being its last purchase. Air Commodore Chris Bushell, the leader of the Typhoon program in the defense ministry, says Britain has reached a contractually agreed cost cap with the buy of 40 fighters in Tranche 3A, meaning the country does not have to take more aircraft even though larger quantities are called for in the umbrella contract for Typhoon. However, Bushell says a decision on buying more could still be made.

Whether the other Eurofighter partners — Germany, Italy and Spain — will contest London’s argument remains unresolved. Workshare has been linked to how many aircraft a country acquires.

Meanwhile, the RAF also is looking to some near-term Typhoon milestones, including the first deployment to the Falkland Islands to take on the quick reaction alert mission there, and the stand up in October 2010 of 6 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, the second main operating base for Typhoon where three squadrons will eventually be based.

Also next year the first parts of FCP1 are to be delivered, which are heavily communications related. A more meaningful upgrade is pending in 2012, when the full integration of the Litening 3 targeting pod should be achieved and the Paveway 4 bomb is fully cleared. Those upgrades are being made to Tranche 2 aircraft and could clear the way for RAF Typhoons to deploy to Afghanistan — Tranche 1 aircraft have a limited air-to-ground capability, but currently it is seen as unlikely the aircraft will deploy into the combat area.