2017-07-08 By Robbin Laird
Recently, I had a chance to return to RAF Lossiemouth to discuss with the Typhoon squadrons the way ahead.
A key element of that way ahead is the full integration with the legacy weapons on Tornado and preparing the way for new weapons and approaches to weaponization.
The core effort starts with integrating on Typhoon those weapons used on Tornado, which are appropriately integrated onto that aircraft.
During my visit I started with a visit with the Tornado Weapons Training unit, which was now becoming a Typhoon Weapons Training unit.
It was very appropriate because the Friday before my visit was the last flight of the Tornado transition squadron at Lossie.
As the BBC noted about the event on Friday, March 17, 2017:
The last Tornado squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray has staged a final flypast before being disbanded.
The Tornado has been the key fast attack jet for the RAF for almost 40 years, but it is now being replaced by Eurofighter Typhoons.
A flypast and simulated ground attack formed the culmination of the final formal sortie of 15 Squadron.
It is the training unit for the Tornado.
On Monday March 20, 2017, when I visited Lossie, the former Tornado weapons team was now a Typhoon weapons training team!
I visited the training hanger where a Typhoon now sat with the Tornado now exited from that hanger.
I was escorted through that hanger and briefed on the weapons in transition by Chief Tech Owen McAlister, Weapons Training Manager.
One of the technicians was working on the Typhoon and familiarizing himself with the aircraft while around the hanger were carefully place the various weapons used by Tornado and Typhoon, each with core functional capabilities for deep penetration strike, or air defense, or close proximity strike.
It was the weapons catalogue for the transition in effect.
The domain knowledge of those weapons and their function on Tornado was being transitioned to Typhoon, with a full knowledge that several of these weapons would function differently on the successor aircraft.
This meant adjusting the training knowledge from the weapons-Tornado pairing to the weapons-Typhoon pairing even of the same weapon.
This was a shift in the domain knowledge and training which would be required as the integration efforts proceeded apace.
The RAF calls the transfer of capabilities from Tornado to Typhoon as Project Centurion, which is being done in three phases.
Phase One Enhancement (P1E) of the Typhoon has included the integration of Raytheon Paveway IVlaser/GPS-guided bombs. P1E entered service in 2015.
Phase Two Enhancements (P2E) include “initial integration” of MBDA’s Meteor BVRAAM and Storm Shadow air-to-surface cruise missile. P2E also includes additional human-machine interface (HMI) and availability improvements to operate the weapons as well.
“Final integration” of both weapons is part of P3E, which also includes the MBDA Brimstone 2 close air support weapon.
One piece of kit which was in the hangar but not going onto Typhoon was the RAPTOR pod. The legacy pod is too large to fit on the optimum centerline station of the Typhoon.
A redesigned pod is in process whereby the Typhoon’s centerline fuel tank would be modified to allow it to carry a significantly upgraded version of the RAPTOR pod.
I discussed with Chief Tech Owen McAlister a key weapon which led to the enhanced service life of the Tornado but which also highlighted the importance of having a weapons officer onboard the Tornado, namely dual seeker brimstone.
This weapon is launched and the weapons bus in turn allows maneuvering to the point where separate weapons can be released with great accuracy to very close proximity targets.
Having a weapons officer onboard obviously is a key part of the ability to have that reprogramming in flight capability.
As McAlister put it, “We first put the weapon into use a decade ago and it has become a weapon of choice for the RAF and for our allies in tasking the RAF as well.
“It enhanced the capability of the Tornado and what it could do in areas like Afghanistan.
“It became a more precise weapon and you could target individual houses, cars, moving targets, or even people with the weapon.”
There was synergy between the weapon and the Tornado’s configuration with a weapons officer onboard.
“Having a weapons officer onboard gives the pilot more freedom to concentrate on what he had to do and the weapons officer could focus solely on that weapon and the evolving targets.”
Earlier, I had discussed this particular transition with the Squadron Commander of the Tornado Transition squadron, Wing Commander Paul Froome.
We discussed Brimstone and its evolution into Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone and the key role of the Tornado fleet in operating the weapon and shaping its concepts of operations.
The Brimstone program has delivered a unique and very effective close proximity weapon which is the weapon of choice by ground commanders in the kind of operations characterized by operating forces against combatants mixed with civilians. Although it started out to replace cluster bombs and to destroy tanks, it has become a very effective anti-personnel, anti-boat, and anti-vehicle weapon.
The crews evolved the tactics of the missile and its evolution and working closely with the weapon’s designers, MBDA, shaped further capabilities with the weapon as it evolved as well.
The basic approach is for the weapon systems officer to laser designate the key moving target, and then the weapon using its on-board radar to refine the aim point with significant precision on the desired target.
And this is a uniquely UK experience.
“With Paveway IV for example we can talk to other national users. With Brimstone we can talk to our industry and ourselves. It was so successful in Afghanistan and was the weapon of choice for a ground commander. He knew that is was so low collateral damage, very accurate and very, very quick.”
The weapon has been used in trials against fast attack craft with Royal Navy assets as well. It can provide for a capability to destroy fast attack boats coming against the Navy and obviously a useful weapon in many parts of the world.
The OC discussed as well the importance of the working relationship among the Tornado pilots, weapons systems officers and MBDA in shaping the evolving Brimstone weapons portfolio.
“We had MBDA up recently, and they came up to chat to my weapons instructors course about Brimstone 2, and how it’s developing and they are receiving feedback from operational experiences as well.”
The weapons aboard Tornado are transitioning to Typhoon and to the F-35, but the operational envelope of the Tornado is different and it is a two seat aircraft with a weapons systems officer in the second seat.
Here the CO saw the importance of the enhanced cockpits on the Typhoons and F-35s as crucial to enable the pilots to operate weapons while flying the aircraft. “It is not just about adding technology; it is about how to operate it from the cockpit.”
With the work in progress evident at the recent Red Flag whereby weapons onboard RAF Typhoons were given targeting date by forward deployed F-35s, a very different approach to the use of weapons is now underway.
And over time, there might well need to be a weapons officer in effect operating within the air combat fleet to sort out weapons load outs against weapons identified by the fifth generation enabled combat force.
In effect, the Tornado weapons officer might come off of the single fighter jet and work the air combat group instead.
In a piece by the “last Tornado student pilot,” he noted that the RAF might miss the role of the weapons officer.
On a claggy winters morning, bursting through the cloud tops, sweeping the wings back and rolling to arrest our rate of climb is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face, even on a Monday.
This satisfaction is enhanced further by having a Navigator – it’s refreshing having somebody along for the ride that isn’t nibbing or criticizing as has been the case for my last few years of flying training!
With effective crew resource management, two heads are most definitely better than one, particularly in a dynamic environment working close to mental capacity.
This teamwork is something I feel the RAF will miss once the Tornado finally bows out in 2019.
I would suggest that this teamwork might well be found as the weaponization of the fifth generation enabled combat force finds a new relationship between combat aircraft and the weapons carriers in the air combat force.
Editor’s Note: For an earlier Special Report on RAF Lossiemouth and its role in the modernization of the RAF, see the following:
This is the sixth in an eight part series based on a March 2017 visit to RAF Lossiemouth.