Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from the Royal Air Force’s No.3 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby are set to be deployed to Romania. Four aircraft and up to 150 personnel (air and ground crew) will be based at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in south east Romania for up to four months beginning on May 1st as part of NATO’s southern air policing mission.
The announcement was made by the British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon who confirmed that Prime Minister Theresa May had sanctioned the deployment in an effort to reassure the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe who are now members of NATO that the alliance remains committed to their protection. The deployment is speculated to be in response to an increase in Russian air activity over the Black Sea that has kept the Romanian Air Force busy.
Fallon has said;
The UK is stepping up its support for NATO’s collective defence from the north to the south of the alliance. With this deployment, RAF planes will be ready to secure NATO airspace and provide reassurance to our allies in the Black Sea region.
The RAF has had a long history patrolling NATO’s border with Russia having led four deployments of fighter aircraft as part of the alliance’s Baltic air policing mission since 2004. In those instances the aircraft have largely been the sole air defence asset for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, Romania has its own fighter force built around the MiG-21 LanceR – an upgraded version of the legendary but increasingly ageing MiG-21 “Fishbed”. The fare more modern RAF aircraft will have to integrate in to Romania’s air defence network.
Romania will also host a large scale NATO exercise in July that U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm said last week would include up to 30,000 NATO troops.
The deployment comes as news reports circulate in both Romania and Russia that Russian inspectors have today visited a military site in Romania to confirm it is no longer operational. The inspection is being carried out under the provisions of the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and while the location of the inspection has not been disclosed the Romanian Defence Minister insists that the inspection is a “normal” undertaking in relations between the two countries.
Tests have been carried out of a new interoperability system that allows the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II to share tactical data with one another. Developed by US Company Northrop Grumman, the Airborne Gateway system was tested on the two aircraft over the course of two weeks in the United States under a Ministry of Defence trial dubbed Babel Fish III.
The tests demonstrated that the Airborne Gateway could successfully convert messages from the F-35B Lightning II’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) into a digital language that could be read by the Typhoon’s Link 16 datalink. The F-35B could already communicate certain information with the Link 16 system which is used on a wide array of frontline US aircraft such as the F-15, F-16 F/A-18 and E-3 Sentry AWACS as well as the RAF’s Typhoon but it couldn’t share all of its tactical data afforded to it by its fifth generation systems.
The two-week trial was conducted in airspace over the upper Mojave Desert in California as part of the RAF’s Exercise High Rider. Northrop Grumman said in a press release;
This is the first time non-US fifth- and fourth-generation aircraft have shared MADL-delivered data, and is an important demonstration of interoperability as the UK moves closer to initial operating capability of its F-35 Lightning II force in late 2018. Being able to network sensor data between fifth-generation and fourth-generation fast jets and other battlespace assets in a stealthy manner is critically important to enabling the full capability offered by fifth-generation aircraft.
The F-35B Lightning II and the Typhoon FGR,4 will form the backbone of the RAF’s fast jet combat force from 2019 onwards as the venerable Panavia Tornado GR.4 is finally phased out of service. The F-35B Lightning II will also be fielded by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm who will operate the aircraft from Britain’s new aircraft carriers. The ability for the F-35B to communicate with the RAF’s aircraft in such an intricate way will give both services a degree of interoperability that previous generations of aircraft in both services could only dream of.
As the RAF’s plans to finally phase out its Panavia Tornado GR.4 force in favour of the Eurofighter Typhoon progress ahead, details have emerged that one asset the Tornado has that will not be transferred over is the Tornado’s RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for TORnado) pod. RAPTOR is a stand-off electro-optical and Infrared long-range oblique-photograpic reconnaissance pod which is capable of producing high-resolution images and then transmitting them via a real-time data-link to image analysts at a ground station. The pod entered service in 2001 and has seen valuable use over Iraq during Operation Telic and continues to be used in operations against Daesh-ISIS.
However, the RAPTOR pod has proven too heavy and too large to fit on the optimum centerline station of the Typhoon; the undercarriage doors are in the way. This has meant that the pod will now have to be retired with the Tornado force but the capabilities it offers may not be lost with the Typhoon. UTA Aerospace Systems (UTAS) has proposed adapting the Typhoon’s centerline fuel tank to carry an improved version of the RAPTOR’s camera and datalink equipment. Christened Fast Jet Pod 2 (FJP2), it could alternatively house the tactical synthetic aperture radar (TacSAR) that UTAS announced was being jointly developed with Leonardo (then Selex Galileo) at the 2014 Farnborough airshow.
The question remains however; how important is manned aerial reconnaissance to the British military in the 21st century? The British armed forces have recently made great strides towards increasing their unmanned tactical reconnaissance and strike assets with the Royal Navy having just completed possibly the most comprehensive unmanned systems exercise in the world namely Unmanned Warrior 2016.
Unmanned systems have all the capability advantages of a pod such as RAPTOR carried by a manned aircraft but has the added advantage of eliminating the risk to aircrew. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones have proven themselves in the fight against global terrorism but in a modern conflict where there would be hostile air activity they are exceptionally vulnerable to interception. On December 23rd 2002, an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a US RQ-1 Predator drone which reportedly opened fire on the MiG with a Stinger missile but failed to hit it. Proponents of manned reconnaissance platforms claim that an aircraft such as Typhoon has a greater chance of defending itself in the face of a dense threat environment and can also carry weapons to immediately attack targets of opportunity should they detect them with their reconnaissance equipment.
UTAS has already produced a downsized version of RAPTOR centered around the pod’s DB-110 system for use on aircraft in the F-16 class and this is also an option for the RAF’s Typhoon.
British Aerospace (BAE) and Eurofighter have announced that the next phase of upgrades and enhancements to the RAF’s fleet of Typhoons has entered the operational evaluation stage. The improvements are aimed at allowing the Typhoon fleet to adopt not only the full range of strike and reconnaissance capabilities the Tornado GR.4 is capable of but also improve upon them. The enhancements will also see the initial integration of the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile (BVRAAM) and the Storm Shadow stand-off Air to Surface weapon.
Operating under the guise of Project Centurion, the MoD and the RAF are confident that the Typhoon will be ready to fully replace the venerable Tornado GR.4 by 2018. The Eurofighter consortium issued a press release earlier this week outlining the next phase of the project.
Phase 1 Enhancements Further Work (P1Eb FW) is an evolution of the current Tranche 2 Typhoon aircraft in service with the UK. The P1Eb standard Typhoons entered service last year.
P1Eb FW is the first part of the UK’s Project CENTURION, the package of enhancements which aims to deliver a seamless transition of capability from Tornado to Typhoon by the end of 2018.
The upgrades will bring numerous new capabilities, including additional Human-Machine Interface technologies and additions to the aircraft’s Air to Surface targeting capability.
P1Eb FW has successfully undergone trial installation and Operational Evaluation with 41 Squadron, the Royal Air Force’s Test and Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby, is now underway.
The Panavia Tornado has performed the all-weather day/night interdiction role for the RAF admirably since its introduction in its original GR.1 form in the early 1980s. Like the Eurofighter Typhoon, the aircraft was built by a multi-national consortium established in the 1970s (its origins can be traced back to the aborted Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft project in the early 1960s). The Typhoon replaced the Air Defence Variant (ADV) of the Tornado in RAF service in 2011 and will fly alongside the RAF’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs once the Tornado GR.4 is withdrawn.
Official photograph of RAF and JASDF personnel following arrival of No.II(AC) Squadron to Japan (JASDF/Tokyo Embassy via Twitter)
Four Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon FGR.2s of No.II (AC) Squadron have arrived in Japan to participate in a military exercise with their Japanese hosts as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen security ties between the two countries. The four Typhoons arrived at Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan on Saturday having deployed from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. The four Typhoons are being supported by a Voyager refuelling aircraft and up to 200 personnel.
The exercise, Guardian North 16, will see the RAF fighters pitted against the Japan Air Self Defence Force’s (JASDF) premier fighters namely the F-15 Eagle and the Japanese manufactured Mitsubishi F-2 (a development of the American F-16 Fighting Falcon). Guardian North 16 will not be the end of the RAF deployment in Asia however as the Typhoons will then move on to South Korea for yet more exercises this time with the Republic of Korea Air Force.
Wing Commander Roger Elliott of No.II (AC) Squadron told reporters;
This is the most ambitious deployment that the Typhoon Force has ever done. I think it’s probably the most ambitious deployment that the Air Force has done to the Far East…We will learn from each other, and ultimately we will make friendships that will tie us together more closely in the future.
The Japanese Defense Ministry told CNN;
Conducting this exercise in Japan will help in strengthening the UK’s commitment in the Asia Pacific region and increasing other European countries’ interest in the security situation in Japan and the Asia Pacific region.
The ministry denied that the deployment was in response to any specific threat in the region. This comes in the wake of fresh protests against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and China’s ongoing claim to the Senkaku islands which Japan controls. In August of this year nearly 230 Chinese fishing boats supported by armed Chinese Coast Guard ships approached the disputed islands in what Japan considered an act of intimidation.
The RAF Typhoons are scheduled to leave Japan for South Korea on November 6th.
A collection of images showing Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349 adorned in special markings to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2015.
ZK349 has been painted in the colours of Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s No.249 Squadron Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3576/GN-A. On August 16th 1940, whilst attempting to bale out of the burning Hurricane after a battle with a number of Messerschmitts over Southampton, Nicolson saw a Bf 110 pass in front of his aircraft and immediately climbed back into his seat to fire on the German twin-engine fighter causing it to dive away and crash in to the ground. Only then did Nicolson bale out but not before sustaining significant injuries.
All photos kindly contributed to Defence of the Realm by Jim Knowles.
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