RAF Typhoon Transitioning to Close Air Support: Participating in Exercise Western Zephyr


2015-03-06 The Tornado is being phased out in favor of the Typhoon.

To do this, will require the Typhoon subsuming the close air support role of the Tornado.

The key to achieving this transition is the incorporation of all of the weapons currently deployed by the Tornado being integrated by Typhoon, which will have been achieved by 2020.

In an exercise with the USAF, the RAF is working its Typhoons in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.

According to a story on the RAF website published March 5, 2015 about Exercise Western Zephyr:

Dubbed Exercise Western Zephyr, the Typhoon FGR4 multi-role aircraft operated by 6 Squadron are working closely with the F-22 Raptors of the USAF 94th Fighter Squadron to further develop the interoperability and integration of the RAF and USAF’s most capable fighter aircraft.

The RAF Commander on the exercise is Wing Commander Jim Walls. He said:”Western Zephyr is proving to be the challenging and demanding exercise we expected and one which will be hugely beneficial to both 6 Squadron and Typhoon Force as a whole. Training of this nature alongside our allies is essential if we are to keep the RAF at the forefront of combat air power.”

Typhoon participating in Exercise Western Zephyr. RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2015
Typhoon participating in Exercise Western Zephyr. RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2015

The Typhoon aircraft originally deployed to the United States in early January to participate in Exercise Red Flag at the conclusion of which eight aircraft flew to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia . They were supported by an RAF Voyager which transported both personnel and support equipment in addition to refueling the Typhoons en-route.

The weather on arrival in Virginia was in stark contrast to Nevada ;the eastern seaboard is experiencing its worst weather in living memory. Continuing snowfall and freezing temperatures, which has seen RAF engineers digging aircraft out of deep snow and ice, has however not disrupted the generation of daily training sorties.

The senior engineering officer on 6 Squadron is Squadron Leader Alex Hunter who said: “The weather here is a stern challenge even for a squadron from RAF Lossiemouth in the north of Scotland . I am very pleased at how both the aircraft and personnel have performed, a demonstration of the ability of Typhoon Force to operate in extreme climatic conditions.”

The exercise commenced with tactical intercept training, RAF air crew operating in concert with Raptor pilots to further develop and enhance the ability of Typhoon to operate with the fifth-generation Raptor. The training is also deemed vital for the development of tactics and procedures ahead of the introduction into front-line service of the UK ‘s own fifth-generation aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II in 2018.

As the three week exercise progresses its size and complexity is steadily increasing and now includes a variety of other aircraft including E-3 Sentry,F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet and T-38 Talon acting as enemy aggressors.

The nature of the training missions has also progressed to include close air support sorties which see RAF crews working with USAF Joint Tactical Attack Controllers to strike ground targets using Paveway IV precision guided munitions guided by Litening III targeting pods.