Master mudmover: in the making?

By February 2019, the RAF’s Tornado GR1 and Tornado GR4 variants will have completed nearly 29 years of continuous combat ops. Serving as the backbone of the RAF’s strike capability throughout those years as its master mud-mover, the Tornado GR4 is a hard act to follow. Jon Lake reviews the work being undertaken to equip Typhoon with the required punch of the Tonka


The RAF’s Typhoon force is preparing to take on all of the weapons capabilities of the soon-to-retire Tornado GR4, as well as revolutionary new air-to-air capabilities. These are being integrated on Typhoon as part of a wide-ranging upgrade known as Project Centurion. Centurion was apparently so named because it is planned to be delivered in 2018, the RAF’s centenary year. Centurion will see the integration of a range of new weapons on the Typhoon as well as enhancing the aircraft’s sensors, avionics and software.

Project Centurion will deliver the most significant expansion of the Typhoon’s airto- ground capability to date, addressing a long-standing perceived programme weakness. While many of the Typhoon’s rivals were offered with a full suite of multirole capabilities and weapons, the Typhoon had only the most limited air-to-ground capabilities through most of its service career to date, severely limiting the aircraft’s appeal in many an export campaign.

The Typhoon was not, as has frequently been stated, built or optimized purely for the Cold War air superiority role. The aircraft was always intended to be a swing-role aircraft, though getting the aircraft into service in the air-to-air role was the initial priority of the four partner nation air forces.

Upgrading the aircraft to accomplish other roles and to unlock the type’s latent air-to-ground role proved difficult and slow.

This was because the core partner nations continued to prioritize the air-to-air role, since their own air forces operated other aircraft that were already adequate or better in the air-to-surface role. The UK, Germany and Italy had fleets of Tornados while Spain operated the EF-18 Hornet, and spending money to duplicate the capabilities of these aircraft on the Typhoon was not an option. Moreover, upgrades and integration of new weapons required the agreement of, and funding from, all the partners, who had different priorities even when it came to the air-to-ground role.

This is an MBDA artist’s impression of a Typhoon tooled-up to the hilt with MBDA products; ASRAAM missiles on stations 0 and 10, three Brimstone missiles per launch system on stations 1 and 9, and Meteor missiles on stations 4, 5, 7 and 8. MBDA
A Meteor test vehicle immediately after launch from a Typhoon on September 9, 2015. BAE Systems

But it is important to realize that when built or modified to Block 5 standards, all Tranche 1 Typhoons had the ability to carry and use a range of dumb unguided or laserguided bombs in the shape of the 1,000lb (454kg) Paveway II, the 2,000lb (907kg) GBU-10 and the 1,000lb GBU-16, though no self-designation capability was embodied.

The Royal Air Force launched a programme to give its Tranche 1 Typhoons an improved austere air-to-ground capability in 2006, and a £73 million contract for this was signed on July 20, known as Change Proposal 193. This was intended to prepare the Typhoon for a planned deployment to Afghanistan in late 2008. That deployment never actually transpired, but the austere air-to-ground programme gave the Block 5 Tranche 1 Typhoon the ability to use the Litening III laser designation pod, and also integrated the dual-mode Enhanced Paveway II bomb, which added GPS guidance to give the basic Paveway II laser-guided bomb an all-weather attack capability. The austere air-to-ground capability was demonstrated during the summer of 2008 during a deployment to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for Exercises Red Flag and Green Flag; the type’s first combat service subsequently occurred over Libya in 201 during Operation Ellamy.

Tranche 2 air-to-ground

Incorporation of CP193 led to an odd situation in which the RAF’s Tranche 1 aircraft were more capable than its later Tranche 2 aircraft, which had different processors and were unable to use the same software. To bring a similar air-to-ground capability to these aircraft (and to the similar Tranche 3 Typhoons), a contract for a further upgrade dubbed Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E) was signed on March 30, 2007.

The Phase 1 Enhancement included integration of the 500lb (227kg) Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, rather than the 1,000lb UK Paveway II used in the austere air-to-ground integration. This reflected the growing importance of minimising collateral damage and of being able to tailor effect by using selectable fusing, variable impact angles and directions of attack. This in turn had led to Paveway IV becoming the theatre entry standard weapon for the campaign in Afghanistan, and software drop dubbed SRP 10 allowed up to four simultaneous Paveway IV bombs to be dropped against separate targets in a single pass, or six bombs sequentially.

P1E also provided better integration of the Litening 3 laser designation pod with a less restrictive mask giving a wider field of view. Litening 3 now incorporated ROVER (Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver) allowing forces on the ground to share imagery from the targeting pod, to see the same picture as the pilot, and thus to share the same situational awareness. A dedicated air-to-ground strafe mode for the 27mm Bk27 Mauser cannon was also included. However, there was more to P1E, which also included improvements and enhancements to the aircraft’s Defensive Aids Sub-System or DASS, communications, navigation, IFF, Passive Infrared Airborne Track Equipment or PIRATE (the fancy looking bump fitted to the top of the aircraft’s forward fuselage), and the Multifunctional Information Distribution System.

Whereas the austere air-to-ground upgrade had been a UK-only programme, the P1E was part of the core programme, and brought German, Italian and Spanish integration of the EGBU-16 dual-mode bomb, and a complete digital integration of the IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile.

Service entry of P1E was delayed several times from the planned date of 2011, finally entering service in 2014. But the integration of the Paveway IV on Typhoon allowed the type to participate in Operation Shader, augmenting the Tornado, which could also carry the MBDA Brimstone and the MBDA Storm Shadow conventionally armed stand-off missile.

Unable to receive Paveway IV due to US restrictions, and unwilling to acquire the Litening 3 laser designation pod due to its Israeli origins, the Royal Saudi Air Force instead integrated the Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bomb and the Thales Damocles laser designator pod on its Tranche 2 aircraft. The programme was remarkably rapid, and the Royal Saudi Air Force actually became the first Typhoon operator to gain a self-designation capability on the Tranche 2 aircraft.


This sequence of frames shows a Storm Shadow test article during release from station 10 of a Typhoon test aircraft. Note the extension of the aft ventral fins, and that the missile’s wings remain folded while the missile falls clear of the launch aircraft. BAE Systems

Though the Paveway IV has become the weapon of choice for the RAF’s Tornado GR4 force, the older type also uses MBDA Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles, and if Typhoon was to replace the Tornado when it left service, it was always clear that it would need to ofer the same weapons capabilities.

Integration of both Storm Shadow and Brimstone has long been planned for Typhoon, as part of the Phase 2 and Phase 3 Enhancements, respectively. Ordinarily, this would have taken many years, but timescales were telescoped after the signature of contract one in May 2012. A number of legacy contracts were brought together under the new agreement, and it was agreed that weapon integrations could be pursued without requiring the agreement of (or funding from) all four partner nations, while maintaining a common baseline product.


This sequence of frames shows two Brimstone test articles during a simultaneous release from the launcher carried on station 11 of Typhoon FGR4 ZJ938. BAE Systems

In addition, defence companies involved with the Typhoon programme funded some forward development work on advanced air-to-ground capabilities in support of export campaigns. This reportedly benefited Storm Shadow integration in particular.

With Saudi Arabia gaining the status of a partner nation, it was also able to push the pace of particular weapons integrations, again benefiting Storm Shadow.


In order to speed up the integration of the weapons that Typhoon would need in order to replace Tornado GR4, the UK launched Project Centurion, bundling together the already planned P1EB FW (Further Work), P2E and P3E upgrades, which became three phases of Centurion.

Senior officers are talking up Centurion. Air Commodore Linc Taylor, the RAF’s Senior Responsible Owner for Typhoon explained: “We have delivered Project Centurion differently… through a new partnering approach with industry.” He said this has enabled the team to “do more than ever before, faster than ever before,” and claims that the process will deliver “twice as much in half the time.”

Group Captain John Cunningham, who heads up Project Centurion for the RAF described Centurion as: “The biggest game changer ever in the development of this aircraft.”

Centurion Phase 0 is what was previously referred to as P1E Further Work (P1EB FW). It primarily delivers man-machine interface (MMI) improvements – especially for multirole operations and is intended to facilitate and enable further weapons integration under P2E and beyond. Phase 0 improvements enable the pilot to do more while the software simplifies the task and maximizes the capability. Phase 0 was delivered in December 2017 and officially entered service in January 2018.

At each stage of the process, the simulators at the two Typhoon main operating bases, RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire and RAF Lossiemouth, Moray, will be upgraded to allow pilots to train on the new software standard, and to familiarize themselves with the new capabilities.

Centurion Phase 1 consists of P2EA which integrates the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and provides an initial Storm Shadow capability.

Introduction of Meteor was originally scheduled for 2012, and then slipped to 2015. As part of the trade-offs made in order to prioritize the integration of advanced air-to-surface weapons (particularly Storm Shadow) integration slipped further to 2017 and then to 2018. The delays may well be worth the wait since Meteor will bring an extreme beyond visual range air-to-air capability to Typhoon.

A flight-test engineer uses a wireless Leica T-Probe on a Storm Shadow test article during flight preparation testing. BAE Systems
This is the most colourful Storm Shadow missile we are ever likely to see; it’s a test vehicle rather than an operational missile. The yellow section of the missile’s fuselage is painted yellow and contains black tracking marks which are used is separation and launch testing. BAE Systems
Eurofighter IPA2 loaded with a Storm Shadow test article takes off from Warton for the first release of a Storm Shadow conventionally armed stand-off missile on November 19, 2015. BAE Systems

Unlike conventional air-to-air missile rocket motors, the Meteor’s air-breathing ramjet can be throttled, saving fuel for manoeuvring or accelerating in the terminal phase and allowing the missile to use all of its energy in the most efficient manner based on the range to the target. This gives the missile a much larger no escape zone than current long-range air-to-air missiles whose rocket motors burn for a certain time, before the missile then coasts to the target. Meteor is equipped with proximity and impact fuses, has an active radar seeker for terminal guidance, and a two-way datalink that allows mid-course guidance and support to be provided by the launch aircraft or other assets; the Meteor has a longer stand-off range than its rivals and reportedly a very high kill probability.

Storm Shadow is a low-observable, airlaunched, conventionally armed stand-off missile that will give a long-range strike capability; the missile’s two-stage BROACH warhead provides penetration of hardened targets, including bunkers.

The P2EA upgrade package was tested by 41 Squadron, the RAF’s fast jet test and evaluation unit based at RAF Coningsby, using an initial batch of six upgraded aircraft, supported by teams from BAE Systems.

The first production batch of P2EA aircraft were upgraded to Centurion Phase 1 standard in April 2018, and by July 2018, 26 aircraft had been modified and were in the fleet. Air Commodore Taylor said the aircraft were flying with 1(F) Squadron (due to be the lead squadron for Meteor introduction) and 6 Squadron (presumably the lead Storm Shadow unit) though the capability had not then been declared operational.

Taylor said that on completion of P2E’s final acceptance trials it was his intent to declare operational availability in the summer. Once P2E has been declared, the frontline will decide when to field the capability but no decisions have been made as to when.

Centurion Phase 2, comprising the former P3EA upgrade, will complete Storm Shadow integration, add the Brimstone 2 missile (which was originally scheduled for 2021), and some improvements to the Helmet Mounted Symbology System/Helmet Equipment Assembly. Operational evaluation of P3EA is expected to begin when P2E gains its operational declaration.

This sequence of frames shows a Brimstone test article during release from station 11 of a Typhoon; note how the missile climbs in its initial flyaway trajectory. BAE Systems
This sequence of frames shows how a Brimstone test article’s rocket motor plume changes between ignition and flyaway. BAE Systems

Brimstone 2 is a low collateral, lowfragmentation air-to-surface missile designed to operate against manoeuvring surface targets on land or sea. The original Brimstone used a millimetric wave (mmW) active radar homing seeker and entered service in 2005.

A dual mode seeker, adding semi-active laser guidance, was developed as a result of combat experience in Afghanistan. This resulted in the Dual Mode Brimstone (DMS Brimstone, or DMB), which was deployed from 2008, and has been combat proven in Afghanistan and Libya.

Brimstone 2 was developed under a programme with the slick name of Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1. The new version added a new insensitive munition (IM) compliant ROXEL rocket motor and a new IM warhead produced by TDW, as well as an improved airframe, seeker, and software, in a more modular design. Brimstone 2 offers a 200% increase in range compared to the original and DMB variants.

The first live firing of a Brimstone missile from a Eurofighter Typhoon was successfully completed in early July 2017. BAE Systems’ pilots completed development test flights using instrumented production aircraft IPA6 with the latest P3EA software loaded, on July 4, after which pilots assigned to 41 Squadron began familiarisation flights at Warton the following day. Formal operational evaluation was scheduled to commence at RAF Coningsby on August 10. The RAF is on course to declare the full Centurion capability operational by the end of this year, with full integration of Paveway IV, Storm Shadow and Brimstone on Typhoon. AIR International understands that a squadron-strength force of modified aircraft and personnel will be available prior to the Tornado GR4 being withdrawn from Operation Shader in February 2019.

Although Project Centurion has been presented as giving the Typhoon the capabilities of the outgoing Tornado GR4, some weapons and sensors carried by the Tornado will not be available to Typhoon – including the 1,000lb UK Paveway II and Enhanced Paveway II, and the 2,000lb Paveway III laser-guided bomb.

Arguably the most significant capability lost when Tornado bows out will be the RAPTOR; the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for TORnado, which is too bulky to fit on the Typhoon’s centreline pylon.

UTC Aerospace Systems proposed an upgraded version of its DB-110 system for Typhoon, based on the Typhoon centreline fuel tank airframe. As things stand, there will be no direct replacement for RAPTOR; the capability will now pass to space-based systems.

Further upgrades

Given Typhoon’s agile airframe, powerful engines, advanced avionics architecture and autopilot, the aircraft has significant relevance and longevity, and further improvements and upgrades are promised. Greater sensor fusion, greater connectivity across all domains, further improvements to the MMI, and continued obsolescence management, to name a few. Project Centurion itself is intended to facilitate further weapon integration, while work is continuing apace on closer interoperability between Typhoon and F-35B Lightning, other aircraft types, naval vessels, land forces and infrastructure.

The RAF recognizes a need to be more rapid, agile and flexible in introducing new capabilities, with a growing focus on spiral development of Typhoon (incrementally building on existing capabilities) and on leveraging technology and capabilities developed for new platforms, and indeed to use technology developed for Typhoon on those new platforms.

There are already plans for next-generation precision stand-off missiles including the SPEAR 3 powered glide bomb, a replacement for Storm Shadow dubbed SPEAR 5 or the Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon, and integration of expendable active decoys.

Other possible upgrades include the Striker II helmet, and an active electronically scanned array radar, which in Eurofighter’s world is called E Scan. Eurofighter has a radar programme aligned with each of the partner nations, some of which will take the Mark 0 European common radar system, others will take the Mark 1, while the RAF plans to take the more advanced Mark 2; a variant which is understood to have expanded electronic attack capabilities. Eurofighter’s lack of an AESA radar until now, must surely be considered as the greatest key capability gap of the jet in many an international fighter competition over the years; thankfully the consortium is finally moving to bridge this gap.

Radar systems are not the only aspect of the jet that Eurofighter has been busy making improvements on; an aerodynamic modification kit or AMK has been developed under the enhanced manoeuvrability programme comprising fuselage strakes and root extensions. The company claims the aerodynamic features increase the maximum lift created by the wing by some 25% and significantly increase the aircraft’s yaw stability at high angles of attack giving significant improvements in turn rate and radius, and enhanced nose-pointing ability at low speed. Tested on IPA7, the AMK has yet to be procured by any customer.

Brimstone test vehicles on a launcher loaded on station 11 of Typhoon FGR4 ZJ938 during a weapon integration test flight from Warton.

Expansion of the Typhoon force

In parallel to Project Centurion’s upgrades, the RAF’s Typhoon force is increasing thanks to a decision to retain a significant proportion of the UK’s older Tranche 1 aircraft. These were once slated for retirement between 2019 and 2020, with funding coming in part from the savings leveraged by the new Typhoon Total Availability Enterprise or TyTAN incentivized support arrangements.

The RAF will form two or perhaps even three new Typhoon squadrons. At one time it was expected that each squadron would be equipped with the retained Tranche 1 aircraft, which would serve almost exclusively in the air defence role, perhaps with at least one unit having a dedicated aggressor commitment for dissimilar air combat training.

Now the new squadrons, like current Typhoon units, will operate a mix of aircraft from all three production Tranches.

The utility of Tranche 1 aircraft will be ensured through a series of modest and cost effective upgrades. The new MBDA Meteor has not been integrated on the Tranche 1 Typhoon, but the RAF’s existing stock of AIM-120C5 AMRAAM missiles (until now the Typhoon’s primary air-to-air weapon) is coming to the end of its life. To arm the retained Tranche 1 aircraft, a batch of up to 200 AIM-120D missiles will be procured. These will also arm UK F-35B Lightning fighters pending the integration of Meteor.

Other reports suggest the RAF’s Enhanced Paveway II could also be extended in service, with This would allow the retained Tranche 1 aircraft to retain an air-to-ground capability, pending a decision on integration of other air-to-ground weapons. The official line, however, is that Enhanced Paveway II will be withdrawn with the Tornado GR4 in March 2019.

Identity of the first new Typhoon squadron’s number plate was revealed by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier as IX(B) Squadron ‘Bats’, which will stand down as a Tornado unit at Marham at the end of March 2019, and will immediately reform as a Typhoon unit at RAF Lossiemouth. This is a good decision by the RAF because IX(B) will not only serve as the RAF’s final Tornado GR4 squadron; it was also the RAF’s first Tornado GR1 squadron when it re-formed at RAF Honington, Suffolk in August 1982, and in doing so became the first operational Tornado squadron in the world.

Number plate identity of the second new Typhoon squadron, thought likely to form at Coningsby in 2019, has yet to be officially disclosed, though speculation circles about the revival of either 43(F) Squadron ‘Fighting Cocks’ or 111 Squadron ‘Tremblers’.

The final new Typhoon unit is 12(B) Squadron, which will be a joint RAF-Qatari Emiri Air Force squadron intended to provide the Qatari Emiri Air Force (QAAF) with Typhoon experience before the first Qatari Typhoons are delivered in 2022. The Joint Squadron will initially be based at RAF Coningsby, and will then deploy to Qatar, where it is expected to play a pivotal role in securing Qatari airspace during the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar.

The unit stood down as a Tornado GR4 squadron on February 14, 2018, and officially reformed on July 24, 2018 with a formal ceremony at Horse Guards, attended by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and the Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Alwith an initial extension of support out to 2021. Thani.


Typhoon FGR4 ZJ938 (BS031) is used by BAE Systems as a test aircraft for weapon integration with the fleet code IPA 6. The jet is seen at Warton in January 2016 loaded with a Meteor missile on station 7. Eurofighter Intrumented Production Aircraft 2 is in the back ground loaded with a Storm Shadow test article. Both jets are loaded with pods housing high-speed cameras and telemetry instrumentation used to record weapon separation events. BAE Systems