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RAF TYPHOON SYRIA & IRAQ: WHAT CANADA SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS AIRCRAFT'S PERFORMANCE AS IT SEEKS A NEW FIGHTER JET: CDR recently sent Aviation Editor, Joetey Attariwala, to visit Royal Air Force (RAF) Base Akrotiri in Cyprus, where he had the opportunity to observe the RAF's 903 Expeditionary Air Wing as they conducted combat operations against ISIS. Here is his report in words and pictures.

The RAF operates in Cyprus under the auspices of Operation SHADER, which was established to prosecute Daesh / the Islamic State and during my visit I was able to see firsthand, operational sorties of support aircraft and armed aircraft launching on combat missions.

Established in 2015, Op SHADER is the name assigned by the British Ministry of Defence to the United Kingdom's counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. Numerous bases feed into the efforts of Op SHADER and key among them is RAF Akrotiri. The Royal Air Force has the distinction of being the second largest contributor to this air campaign.

SUPPORTING 903 EAW

RAF Akrotiri is situated on a peninsula on the southern aspect of Cyprus. Its position in the eastern Mediterranean is of immense strategic importance as it is in close proximity to the areas in Iraq and Syria where Daesh and other terrorist elements declared the establishment of a caliphate in 2014.

The UK's 83 Expeditionary Air Group (EAG) supports the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters with a number deployable Expeditionary Air Wings (EAW). In the case of RAF Akrotiri, it's the 903 EAW which is resident on base and carries out its mission on direction from the 83 EAG. Aircraft allocated to the 903 EAW include Tornado and Typhoon fighters, the Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker and transport aircraft, and the Sentinel R1 which provides long-range, wide-area battlefield surveillance, delivering critical intelligence and target tracking information to British and coalition forces.

TYPHOON CRITICAL TO THE FIGHT

Speaking to CDR about RAF Akrotiri was Wing Commander John Eklund, RAF Media Ops, who said, "RAF Akrotiri is very much the heartbeat of the UK's contribution to the multi-national Coalition operations which is successfully defeating Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Each day you see Typhoon and Tornado takeoff from here, supported by Voyager. Elsewhere we've got ISTAR assets and Reaper who are all taking the fight to the opposition. Of course, Typhoons are critical to that."

According to Group Captain Chaz Dickens, Commanding Officer of 903 EAW, the biggest challenge is "finding the enemy." A key asset which he employs to locate enemy forces is the Sentinel aircraft which looks to establish a 'pattern of life.' "We'll start to look at the areas that we've seen a change in the pattern of life and to try and develop that understanding so we can find and then target the enemy should they present themselves," Dickens told CDR.

According to the RAF, efforts in recent months have been focused on the Dashisha area, with a final focus now in a small zone of contested space around the Mid-Euphrates River Valley.

FLYING OVER SYRIA AND IRAQ

Once the enemy's location is established, the 903 EAW employs combat airpower to neutralize threats. In the case of RAF Akrotiri, this falls to the Tornado and Typhoon fast-jet fighter aircraft which are forward deployed to the base. The 903 EAW typically has eight Tornados assigned to it, and a number of Typhoons which are assigned in the attack role.

"This is the point about air power - because of the speed of the jets, we can go anywhere across the country, wherever the Daesh fighters come together, be that in Iraq or across Syria," said Dickens. "Our Typhoon jets can travel 10 miles a minute, so in under an hour we can be 500 miles away if required."

Missions from RAF Akrotiri typically consist of two Tornados and two Typhoons launching in one wave, followed by another similar wave later in the day. According to Dickens, the current bomb of choice for the RAF is the Paveway IV dual-mode guided bomb. Both aircraft use the Paveway IV, while the Tornado also employs the Brimstone missile - the latter capability will migrate to the Typhoon towards the end of this year.

THE BOMB OF CHOICE

Aircraft operating from RAF Akrotiri are almost immediately in the range of Russian S400 missile batteries (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) which are deployed in Syria. This fact is not lost on RAF pilots who are constantly aware of that potential threat. The RAF, like other Coalition partners, seek to deconflict their flights through a direct line with Russian air controllers.

The Royal Air Force will have seven Typhoon squadrons by 2019 and eight squadrons once a joint RAF/Qatari squadron is commissioned in 2020.

For Op SHADER, the RAF currently operates Tornado and Typhoon fast jet fighters, however the former will be retired in 2019, leaving the Typhoon as the primary multi-role fighter aircraft prosecuting the fight.

Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoon Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E) fighters have been used in Op SHADER, all of which will be upgraded under the UK's Project Centurion weapons fit upgrade program. This upgrade, which includes aspects of Phase 2 and Phase 3 Enhancement (P2E / P3E), will allow the Typhoon to employ the Meteor, beyond visual range, air-to-air missile, the Brimstone air-to-ground missile, and the Storm Shadow cruise missile. A Mode 5 Identification, friend or foe (IFF) interrogator upgrade is also imminent.

FOCUS ON AIR-TO-GROUND

The operational payload fit for Op SHADER missions that the Typhoons are currently flying have a focus on air-to-ground capability. Each mission dictates the payload fit, which could include a mix of Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAM), Paveway IV bombs, a Litening III targeting pod, and external fuel tanks. The Typhoon is also fitted with a 25mm cannon.

Interestingly, the maintenance crews at RAF Akrotiri were keen to point out that they only keep one spare Typhoon engine on hand due to the high reliability of the Typhoon's Eurojet EJ200 engine. "The engines are very reliable and it's not a difficult thing to do to change one. All in, to change an engine and have it tested and signed off would take about 5 hours," an RAF maintenance technician told CDR.

The main sensor for the Typhoon is its ECR-90 Captor radar (also known as the Captor-M). The aircraft also employs the Passive Infra-Red Airborne Track Equipment (PIRATE) system, which provides Infrared Search and Track (IRST) capability - a system which is particularly useful in identifying low-observable aircraft.

NFTC GRADUATE

Interestingly, the Typhoon Detachment Commander at RAF Akrotiri (name being withheld for security reasons) is a graduate of the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program and he has also flown the F/A-18 on exchange with the U.S. Marine Corps. He explained how the Typhoon has a significant sensor fusion capability between its radar, the PIRATE system, and Link 16.

The Typhoon's modern glass cockpit has three large multi-function displays and a wide-angle Heads-Up Display (HUD). "One of our biggest threats, outside of surface-to-air missiles and anything like that is actually other aircraft. Because Daesh has been shrunk down to a very small area, there is now a serious concentration of aircraft - RPAS and manned ISR and attack platforms, etc, all in quite a small piece of space. The radar is key, particularly coming off refueling and getting back into your airspace," explained the Typhoon Detachment Commander.

"We're not built for ISR per se, but the targeting pod gives us a great capability, so I'd say we're a non-dedicated ISR platform. We work with JTACs [Joint Terminal Attack Controller] who routinely task us to build on that broader pattern of life. We're trying to find specific intelligence on individuals, groups, networks, to build that picture, that's our primary job most of our time here."

The Typhoon is fitted with wingtip electronic support measures (ESM) and towed decoys. The Typhoon also has the fully integrated Praetorian Defensive Aid Sub-System (DASS) which provides threat assessment, aircraft protection and support measures in extremely hostile environments. Speaking about this capability, the Typhoon Detachment Commander told CDR, "The DASS display is a key capability for the aircraft. It is a definite strength and it gives great awareness of who's around, who's looking at me, and who might be a threat... The only thing that isn't fused in the jet at the moment is the DASS. But, because the DASS is so good and it's so well presented to you, I personally don't find that a problem."

Pilots flying the Typhoon wear a Helmet Mounted Sight which allows for automatic sensor cueing. "It allows me to see where my sensors are looking on the ground. JTACs can ask us to look at several things, so all we need to do is type them into the system so you can rapidly bring the sensors to bear to look in that direction. Likewise, if I see something of interest on the ground, like an explosion, I can rapidly move the sensors to it in a matter of seconds. That way I can have a targeting pod on it, and I can see the big picture with the helmet," explained the Typhoon Det Commander. "By night we'll use a night helmet with NVGs. The next generation helmet we're hoping to get will have an integrated night vision camera."

TYPHOON IS A PILOT'S AIRCRAFT

"Performance wise, from a pilot's perspective, the Typhoon is a great aircraft to fly. With 40,000 pounds of thrust available, even in the SHADER weapons fit, there's no need to use reheat to get airborne. It's carefree high performance handling," a Typhoon pilot told CDR during our visit.

Speaking about the advantages of the Typhoon, the Detachment Commander told this reporter, "This is a great airplane. You have a big delta winged, highly maneuverable aircraft. This airplane is a 9 G airplane, and that's 9 Gs sustained. It has carefree handling, excellent engines with a spectacular amount of thrust. You can fly very high and very fast. It's a great capability and it's only going to get better with the Centurion enhancements."

He added, "The dual-mode Paveway IV is already a great capability and is highly flexible as its GPS mode allows the Typhoon to strike four separate targets simultaneously. We can generate our own coordinates by using the laser from the pod, and the advantage of the coordinate seeking mode of the weapon is it's wind corrected. You'll also have the edge in a long range missile fight because you're higher and faster than other fighters. If you're through the mach, launching long range missiles, you're already helping them on their way because of how fast you're going and how high you are. Then if you go into the visual arena, you've got so much thrust available to you, that you can fight the fight you want to fight, and win."

TYPHOON BEATS HORNET

The Typhoon Detachment Commander previously flew missions for a Baltic Air Policing detachment, which was relieved by the RCAF and he commented, "We did some training with them, and granted it's the older Hornet, but we comfortably beat them, and we should because we've got far more power than them, and far more G. It's [Typhoon] a very forgiving aircraft because she's so powerful, the wing is so good, and the flight control software is so good. It takes less capacity for me to fly it, so that allows me more ability to fight with it."

"My personal perspective is that as a combat airplane, the more redundancy there is the better. Having two engines means I have two independent gearboxes, so all my hydraulics and electrics are two independent systems. So with one engine I've still got full hydraulic power and full electric power to do everything. Also, the engines in this airplane are so powerful that it's not a big deal if you lose one. I mean you wouldn't continue fighting the jet, clearly, but in terms of getting yourself home after losing an engine, it would get you there. As a combat pilot, personally, I'd always want two engines... Having trained in Canada, I know that you have huge expanses in Northern Canada and even in Southern Canada. It's not like you're replete with airfields, so you've got to go a long way if you have a problem, and with a single engine airplane that might not be tenable."

CDR's visit to RAF Akrotiri was a rare opportunity to see the 903 EAW and its Eurofighter Typhoons in action and during my time on the base, I observed: two Voyager aircraft launched, an A400M departed, and four Tornado and four Typhoons conducted combat missions. Each returned with their full complement of weapons.

According to a Coalition estimate, the air campaign has killed 50,000 Daesh fighters. "Daesh has been severely degraded over the last four years, but they are not yet defeated. It will not be long before we have destroyed the physical caliphate where they hold land on the ground, but we now need to defeat them as an organization," said Dickens.

TYPHOON UNMATCHED IN THEATRE

"We need to disrupt their networks, we need to disrupt their abilities to resupply - that will take time. So in the future, although they don't hold land, we need to stop them becoming an insurgency and we need to stop them to have the ability to mass... The Coalition will need to stay together to be able to target Daesh wherever they come to target and produce insecurity."

The Eurofighter Typhoon will soon be the only fast jet in the RAF inventory tasked with continuing Op SHADER missions. Its imminent upgrades will make it virtually unmatched in the theatre, and therefore an asset to the multi-national Coalition fight against Daesh.

Joetey Attariwala is CDR's Senior Staff Writer and Aviation Editor
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Title Annotation:EUROFIGHTER
Author:Attariwala, Joetey
Publication:Canadian Defence Review
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2018
Words:2244
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