FighterSweep Fans, there have been many technological advances for the Eurofighter Typhoon in the past few years, many of which directly relate to further development of this magnificent aircraft’s swing-role capability. We’ll take a look at the nuances between Multi-Role and Swing-Role, and the changes required in capability to progress from the former to the latter.

The term “Multi-Role,” as it applies to aircraft, is used to describe the design concept of a platform that could execute more than one mission set–such as air-to-air, surface attack, and tactical reconnaissance. This is broadly similar today, and the term “Multi-Role” is often used to describe most front-line combat aircraft. Importantly, it is widely accepted that role limitations such as payload, or mission specific hardware, mean that multiple tasks cannot be achieved in the same mission on a ‘Multi-Role’ aircraft. Swing-Role, however, is subtly different. Swing Role describes a Multi-Role aircraft that can quickly switch between mission sets, or even carry out 2 different mission sets simultaneously.

As an example, the difference between Swing-Role and Multi-Role is succinctly defined by the UK Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC): “Swing-role describes the capability to switch between different roles within a sortie, whereas multi-role and multi-mission implies the ability to reconfigure air platforms for different roles and missions between sorties.”

Does Typhoon have an existing Swing-Role capability with Tranche (a very Brit term, so think “Block” or “Increment,” just so your cranium doesn’t implode) 1? It can be argued that Typhoon has an existing Swing-Role capability with Tranche 1 aircraft. However, 92 (Tactics and Training) Squadron of the Royal Air Force specifies the ability to execute as desired in combat is dictated by both task and threat.

Swing-Role: Unlocking Typhoon’s Capabilities (1)
An RAF Typhoon ready to take the runway for a night mission during Red Flag. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

There are significant limitations to Typhoon’s ability to execute Swing-Role sorties in a high threat environment versus a ‘near peer’ threat with the Tranche 1 aircraft. In fact the Royal Air Force (RAF) describes the Typhoon as a “…highly capable and extremely agile multi-role combat aircraft…” Note that the RAF itself does not yet describe the Typhoon as Swing-Role.

At the time of this writing, only Tranche 1 Typhoons are declared as Force Elements at Readiness ([email protected]) for expeditionary air operations. This is due to change in the very near future as the Tranche 2 is declared [email protected] at the P1E Bravo (P1E(b)) standard as part of Interim Force 2015 (IF15) – a milestone on the journey to Future Force 2020. This declaration of Tranche 2 [email protected] will bring Typhoon’s first true Swing-Role capability.

What was Typhoon’s Swing-Role capability in 2012?

Very little changed in Typhoon’s Air-to-Surface (A-S) capability between initial declaration in 2008 the QWIC 3 graduation in 2012. Accelerated by Tranche 1 Typhoon’s participation in Operation ELLAMY (UK participation in Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR – the NATO mission is Libya) in 2011, the ‘Drop 1’ programme made some small Human-Machine-Interface (HMI) and software
adjustments to make in cockpit programming easier and give more  information on some displays. Also, trials were conducted to verify the aircraft’s ability to generate Category II co-ordinates. However, the overall A-S (surface attack) capability integration on Tranche 1 Typhoon was still classed as ‘austere’.

Particularly, with regard to Swing-Role as switching between Air-to-Air (A-A) and A-S modes was not a Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) function. Also, once in A-S mode, the pilot had no way to change any other mission parameters, such as radios or Information Friend or Foe (IFF) without exiting A-S modes. Furthermore, the aircraft was not cleared to release more than 1 A-S weapon at a time, and no more than 2 A-S weapons in a single pass of the target. The Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) and the Link-16 had no capability in the A-S arena. Lastly, the integrated PGM – Enhanced Paveway II (EPWII) – did not have any capability for in cockpit programming, airburst fusing, or impact elevation/impact azimuth programming, and had no stand-off capability.

All of the aforementioned limitations restricted the Tranche 1 Typhoon’s ability to execute Swing-Role missions as, ultimately, combat capability can be analyzed in two subsets: survivability, and lethality. Survivability is reduced if Typhoon is required to make multiple passes of a target to service multiple Desired Points of Impact (DPIs) and also if Typhoon is required to get closer to a defended target due to a lack of stand-off capability. Lethality is reduced when time taken to prosecute targets is increased due to poor HMI, and a lack of utility with HMSS or Link-16. Furthermore, weapon effects can be compromised without the flexibility of in cockpit programming, particularly on Dynamic Targets. At the time of writing, little has changed with Tranche 1 Typhoon’s A-S, and thus Swing-Role, capability since 2012.

The aircraft is now at ‘Drop 2’ standard, which brought minor improvements HOTAS functionality in the A-S arena, but no fundamental changes to overall A-S integration. The same cannot be said for Tranche 2 Typhoon. In 2012, Tranche 2 Typhoon had no capability in the A-S arena, and had many other capability challenges that prevented it from holding an expeditionary [email protected] responsibility. However, at P1E(b), Tranche 2 not only overcomes the other [email protected] challenges, but also delivers a potent, integrated, A-S capability –leapfrogging Tranche 1 and enabling Typhoon to begin to realize its full potential in the Swing-Role arena.

Swing-Role: Unlocking Typhoon’s Capabilities (1)
A Royal Air Force Typhoon takes off for a Red Flag mission. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

What does P1E(b) deliver to Typhoon?

Eurofighter describe P1E(b) as a “paradigm shift” in capability as the platform secures its place as the most effective, capable and powerful swing role aircraft currently available.’ This is a valid assessment when comparing the capability available to Typhoon at the P1E(b) standard compared with that currently fielded as [email protected] on Tranche 1 aircraft. Ultimately, P1E(b) revolutionises Typhoon’s A-S capability on Tranche 2 by introducing the Paveway IV PGM and coupling it with the Litening III LDP and HMSS, as well as other significant avionic upgrades. The delta in survivability and lethality – and therefore capability – from Tranche 1 is substantial

Paveway IV Integration

Paveway IV entered service with the RAF on the Harrier GR9 in 2007 and has seen continued service with the Tornado GR4 through to the present day. It is a 500lb class PGM designed to replace the ageing EPWII. At P1E(b) it is fully integrated onto Tranche 2 Typhoon and offers significant improvements over the EPWII.

Firstly, integration at P1E(b) enables the pilot to release up to 6 weapons in a single pass, allowing multiple DPIs to be targeted with reduced exposure to surface threats and reduced time spent away from prosecuting A-A targeting. Furthermore, the Paveway IV’s ‘nudge-nudge’ guidance system and extended battery life means it can sustain a much longer time of flight that the EPWII. It
can, therefore, be employed at significantly longer ranges from the target, once again reducing exposure to surface threats. These two attributes of Paveway IV, and its integration with Typhoon, significantly increase the survivability of Typhoon in a high surface and air threat environment.

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The lethality of Typhoon is also notably increased with Paveway IV. Weapon effect of a PGM against a specific target is based on a number of factors including impact elevation (in degrees from the horizontal), impact azimuth (also known as Line of Attack or LOA), and fuse delay. The Paveway IV not only allows all of these parameters to be programmed in mission planning but,
at P1E(b), they can also be programmed dynamically in cockpit.

This is a remarkable improvement from EPWII integration to Tranche 1 where fuse parameters had to be set on the ground prior to take off and impact azimuth and elevation were only influenced by aircraft flight path and speed at release, making it very difficult to achieve set impact parameters and, thus, weapon effect. Furthermore, a secondary effect of being able to define specific weapon impact conditions with Paveway IV means that weaponeering can be much more precise, allowing better collateral damage estimations, and improved utility when employing in close proximity to friendly forces on the ground.

Lastly, aircraft integration provides a dynamic Launch Acceptability Region (LAR) to be displayed to the pilot which illustrates when the pilot is in an appropriate aircraft condition for a Range release (all weapons will reach their designated DPIs) and a Zone release (all weapons will reach their DPIs and meet desired impact criteria). This provision allows the pilot the flexibility to make real time decisions to evade or react to threats while still achieving desired weapons effects. This improves both survivability and lethality when
employing in a high threat environment.

Stay tuned for part two of our look at the swing-role capability of the Typhoon!
(Featured Photo by Jonathan Derden)