WARTON — With a complex weapons integration program squared away, giving Royal Air Force Typhoon jets more punch, key sensors on the jet could see an upgrade.
The RAF’s test and evaluation squadron is already test flying the Litening 5 targeting pod in order to optimize its operation by Typhoon pilots. Work is also underway to update and improve the reliability of the jets Pirate passive infrared airborne track equipment, said Andy Flynn, BAE System’s Typhoon capability director.
Known as Project Centurion, the British late last year completed integration of MBDA’s Meteor, Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles on Typhoon in 47 months. At a cost of around £425 million, or $515.83 million, the program allowed the RAF to stand down the entire fleet of Tornado jets that had provided the primary strike capability.
Flynn told reporters during a briefing at the company’s Warton combat air site in northwest England Aug. 7 that the sensor work was “the next iteration of Centurion.”
“Agile spiral development and keeping the aircraft relevant is the phase we are in. We have done the big leap and it’s now about keeping it relevant,” he said.
The Tornado was a two-seat aircraft, whereas the Typhoon is single seat. Flynn said the work on the Litening 5 was about easing pilot workload.
“What we are doing now is getting the feedback from customer and operations teams on how to make that tasking simpler and really increase the cycle time on ops. We’ve already got Litening 5 pods up in the air as an iteration and we are seeking feedback from 41 Squadron [the test and evaluation squadron], ” he said.
The plan is to get the enhanced capability “out to the front line by the end of next year,” said Flynn.
Development phase work is also underway on a new iteration of Pirate as well improving the reliability and robustness of the sensor.
“That work is in the development phase and we are doing that over the Autumn period. What we are doing on Typhoon overall is really enhancing the sensors capability as well making the workload easier for the pilot,” said Flynn.
The sensor changes are a small part of a wider capability update on the Typhoon to keep aircraft relevant until they go out of service, currently set for 2040.
On the horizon for the RAF is a new e-scan radar, known as Radar 2, which is being developed for the British by Leonardo; the new BAE Striker II helmet; and networked enabled weapons.
But, Eurofighter, the Airbus, BAE, and Leonardo industrial partnership responsible for the development and production of the Typhoon, is also conducting a review of future potential updates to the fighter. Eurofighter announced at the Paris Air Show in June a deal valued at 53.7 million euros with the NATO Eurofighter & Tornado Management Agency, or NETMA, to undertake a long-term evolution review of the fighter and the EJ200 engine over the next 19 months. NETMA represents the British, German, Italian and Spanish governments.
Flynn said there were more than 50 separate candidate technologies being considered by the evolution review. Some of those potential upgrades could also find themselves cross decking to the Tempest sixth-generation fighter now being proposed by the British.
Clive Marrison, the industrial requirements director for Team Tempest, the industrial/government partnership leading the next-generation fighter work , said both jets could benefit from close development ties.
“Typhoon could benefit from some of the technologies that Tempest is looking at and by the same token Tempest could benefit from some of the technologies that Typhoon is investing in,” said Marrison.
For example: Some of the cockpit and helmet work BAE is doing might allow industry to offer some of those technologies back into Typhoon, said Marrison.
While the BAE executives were looking into the future for British combat air capabilities, the Typhoon approaches a landmark of sorts to be celebrated. Sixteen years after taking delivery of its first Typhoon, the RAF is preparing to receive the final aircraft ordered for its fleet in the next few weeks, said Flynn.
The final aircraft in a British order for 160 Typhoons made its test flight recently and is due to be handed over to the RAF in the coming weeks.
Completion of the order leaves 24 aircraft destined for Qatar on the order book for BAE, although it is also building parts of the Typhoons sold to Kuwait by Eurofighter partner Leonardo.
Three equipment sets have so far been completed at BAE’s Samlesbury plant near Warton, destined for the Leonardo assembly site in Italy.
Flynn said the Qatar build program was just getting underway. The 24 aircraft order will see deliveries start in 2022 with completion set for 2024.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.