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.
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.
During the 1970’s, British Aerospace had undertaken studies into designing a combat aircraft that could replace several RAF aircraft such as the Phantom, Harrier and Jaguar. The new aircraft was to be tailored primarily toward the ground attack role but with a true self defence capability against enemy aircraft. Given the success of previous European collaborations such as the Panavia Tornado the new aircraft was intended to be a follow-up with the Panavia partners of Germany and Italy contributing funds and technology. However, very quickly the West Germans showed a lack of financial support and the Italians followed suit leaving the project entirely funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and the members of the British aviation industry who invested in the project.
The first and only EAP (Experimental Aircraft Program) was rolled-out of BAe’s Warton facility in April 1986. After a series of ground trials the EAP made its maiden flight in August of that year and during this initial sortie the aircraft reached Mach 1.1 – an impressive feat for an aircraft’s first flight. The aircraft was powered by a pair of RB.199-104D turbofan engines, the same engines powering the Panavia Tornado ADV and which were quite advanced for the 1980s being equipped with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) that controlled all aspects of the engine to gain the most out of it at all times. Within the following months the aircraft managed to comfortably attain a speed of Mach 2.0.
Other testing was aimed at investigating or proving some of the new technological developments the aircraft was intended to demonstrate. The aircraft researched the full fly-by-wire concept for an aerodynamically unstable aircraft with a canard/delta configuration. It also tested the efficiency of the new cockpit which incorporated three large screen Multi-Function Displays as opposed to the traditional cockpit with gauges and switches. Although weapons trials were not part of the test program the aircraft did fly with dummy Sky Flash missiles on the fuselage stations and two dummy short range missiles on the wing pylons.
The aircraft was extensively tested during its lifetime pushing it to the very limit of what it was capable of as well as thrilling air show crowds. By the time of its very last flight in May 1991 it had flown 259 sorties totalling 195.21 flying hours. During that time the aircraft displayed excellent agility that would rival even today’s modern combat aircraft. Its high-alpha performance was unequalled compared to any other aircraft of its class being able to achieve an angle of attack up to 36 degrees in controlled flight. Without the EAP program the Eurofighter Typhoon would not have been possible (or at least delayed by many years).