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As British RAF Receives Final Typhoon Jet, Host of Upgrades Await to ‘Keep it Relevant’

© Markus Leodolter / The first Eurofighter "Typhoon" jet fighter of the Austrian army lands in Zeltweg, Austria, in this file photo dated Thursday, July 12, 2007.
The first Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighter of the Austrian army lands in Zeltweg, Austria, in this file photo dated Thursday, July 12, 2007.  - Sputnik International
With Eurofighter’s final Typhoon fighter jet for the British Royal Air Force already off the assembly line, the service is preparing a host of new upgrades for its 116-strong Typhoon fleet, including better engines, radar and passive sensors.

The final Typhoon jet has already completed construction at the Warton, Lancashire, assembly plant and is undergoing final equipment installation and trials before being delivered to the RAF, Andy Flynn, Eurofighter and Centurion capability director at BAE Systems Air, told Flight Global on Thursday. 

The oldest Typhoon jets are 14 years old, and in the time since the first RAF Typhoon squadron was formed in early 2006, the world of fighter aircraft has advanced considerably. That’s why the UK Ministry of Defense has shelled out $515.8 million in the last three years to bring the aircraft up to speed with the newest fighters.

"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," Flynn told the US-based Military Times. "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,” a testing and evaluation squadron.

The Litening 5 targeting pod is one of the Typhoon’s newest upgrades, a precision targeting system that enables the jet to carry advanced laser-guided weapons. The Litening 5 forms part of a vast, three-year-long upgrade dubbed Project Centurion that was recently completed, enabling the jet to carry Meteor, Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles.

Upgrades to the fighter’s Passive Infrared Airborne Track Equipment (PIRATE) long-range surveillance system are "the next iteration of Centurion,” Flynn told reporters outside the Warton combat air site on Wednesday. He said they hope to have the new system "out to the front line by the end of next year.”

The system, an externally mounted pod like the Litening, provides passive long-range surveillance by tracking the heat created by the friction between an aircraft’s metal skin and the air around it. As a passive system, it’s both undetectable and unjammable, according to a Royal United Services Institute report from 2015.

Flynn told the Military Times there were more than 50 candidate technologies being considered for upgrading the Typhoons still further. Some of the upcoming planned upgrades include Radar 2, a new BAE Striker II helmet and overhauled engines.

Radar 2 will be a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA), a type of advanced doppler radar that’s only recently become popular - and small enough -  to fit on strike aircraft like the Typhoon, according to an April 2018 article in Combat Aircraft magazine. The US’ F-35 and Japan’s F-2 sport the system, as do China’s J-20 and Russia’s MiG-31.

On Monday, the MoD signed a $425 million contract with Rolls-Royce to provide maintenance support for the Typhoon’s EJ200 engine through 2024, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, a separate $60.1 million contract with the NATO Eurofighter & Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) will see the agency conduct a 19-month-long evolution review of the fighter and its double engines, Eurofighter announced at the Paris Air Show in June.

The new technologies won’t solely benefit the Typhoons, though: Clive Marrison, who oversees industrial questions for Team Tempest, said the proposed sixth-generation Tempest fighter could benefit as well.

"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," Marrison told Military Times, including the cockpit and helmet system, which allows the pilot to “see through” the body of the aircraft and get a 360-degree view.

However, Eurofighter won’t be winding down production of the Typhoon any time soon: it’s still contracted to build dozens of aircraft for a variety of foreign buyers, including 24 for Qatar, as well as parts for Kuwait’s Typhoons.

The RAF expects to be using the Typhoon until 2040.

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