Murphy's Law: Post Cold War Typhoon


January 17, 2018: At the end of 2017 Germany completed conversion of the first 12 (of 48) Typhoon fighters to handle ground support. Specifically this means being able to use a targeting pod to carry and deliver up to four GBU-48 smart bombs. This is also known as the Paveway II and is a 1,000 pound (454 kg) smart bomb that uses GPS or laser guidance. Germany follows Britain and most Typhoon users in upgrading at least some of their Typhoons to handle ground attack. Britain did this first. In late 2014 Britain had their Paveway IV smart bomb operating from their Typhoons. The Paveway IV was developed in Britain and is not used by the U.S. Air Force or Navy. Introduced in 2008, over a thousand 500 pound (228 kg) Paveway IVs have been dropped in combat so far. These were dropped by the older Tornado fighter-bomber. Saudi Arabia, the one export customer for Paveway IV has used them on their Typhoons against targets in Syria and Yemen and is very satisfied with these new, for the Saudis, smart bomb. In 2015 Britain also had Brimstone (a Hellfire variant that can be used by jet fighters) operating from Typhoon. The Brimstone upgrade to the Typhoon included a new three rail launcher that enables a Typhoon to carry up to 18 Brimstones. Brimstone 2 version has range (fired from jets) increased from 20 kilometers to 60 kilometers along with improvements in accuracy and reliability. At the new max range the Brimstone takes up to three minutes to reach its target. Originally developed as an upgraded version of the American Hellfire, Brimstone ended up as a Hellfire in general shape only. Weighing the same as the Hellfire (48.5 kg/107 pounds) Brimstone is laser guided.

Adding these ground attack capabilities makes Typhoon a lot more useful. Typhoon was developed and built by a consortium of the largest European defense firms as a replacement for the Cold War era Tornado fighter (a contemporary of the Su-27, F-15 and F-16). Development began in the 1980s and first flight was in 1994, after the Cold War unexpectedly ended. This reduced the urgency to get Typhoon into service, which didn’t happen until 2003.

The Typhoon turned out to be a pretty good warplane, as long as you didn’t need it to provide ground support as well. By 2008 there were 135 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, and these aircraft had been in the air for a combined 35,000 hours (as of the end of 2007.)  About 20 percent of those flight hours were for flight testing, but the rest were for day-to-day operations. The future looked bright.

But since then, competition from American and Russian fighters for export sales and the lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases has dimmed sales prospects. Typhoon got into combat in 2011 over Libya and performed well, but the demand from export customers (and local ones) was just not there. The main problem was the inability to do ground attack and operate as a fighter-bomber. Since 2011 a growing number of Typhoons have been upgraded to operate as a fighter-bomber and carry up to seven tons of weapons that include GPS and laser guided weapons. These Typhoons can carry a combination of smart bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks and can stay in the air for two to four hours per sorties depending on the mission. A new AESA radar has been developed for Eurofighter and this is another popular upgrade. So far nearly 700 Typhoons have been delivered or are on order.


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