MS&T’s Dim Jones describes RAF Typhoon training system that addresses the new adage: aviate, assimilate, disseminate. This is the first part of a two part series.

The Eurofighter Typhoon, a 4th-generation multi-role fighter, now in service with 6 air forces and on order for a seventh, is the product of collaboration between 4 European nations, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.  The programme has its origins in an Air Staff Requirement raised by the UK MoD in the early 1970s, and a joint proposal by British Aerospace (UK) and Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB - Germany) to their respective governments.  Dassault (France) joined the programme in 1979, but withdrew in 1985 to pursue its own project, which resulted in the Rafale.  Spain also withdrew at this time, but rejoined almost immediately.  After many concept and experimental iterations, the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) was designed by a consortium of 3 companies – EADS (Germany), Alenia Aeronautica (Italy), and British Aerospace (UK), acting as Eurofighter GmbH - and was developed from the Experimental Aircraft Programme (EAP) as a twin-engined canard-delta wing aircraft; the first flight of the prototype took place on 27th March 1994.

The initial production contract was signed on 30th January 1998, for a total of 620 aircraft, split 232/180/121/87 for the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain respectively.  This resulted in a production workshare allocation of 37.5% for British Aerospace (now BAE Systems), 29.03% for DASA (now EADS(D)), 19.52% for Aeritalia (now Alenia), and 14.03% for CASA (now EADS(C)).  The development programme was beset by equipment, funding and workshare (linked to final offtake) disagreements, and subject to significant delay, the degree of which can be judged by the fact that the aircraft was progressively known as Eurofighter 96 and Eurofighter 2000 before the newly-christened Typhoon entered front line service in 2003.  In the intervening years, many changes had taken place, not least the ending of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the threat against which Eurofighter had originally been designed.  As far as the UK was concerned, successive ‘peace dividend’ defence cuts had also taken place, starting with ‘Options for Change’ in 1991 and culminating (so far) in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010 – and this while the RAF was engaged in 2 Gulf Wars and the ensuing policing mission in Iraq, air operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and – latterly – Libya, together with the ongoing commitment to the Falkland Islands.

Production was planned to be split into 3 tranches, of which the last of the Tranche 1 deliveries, and the first of the Tranche 2, took place in 2008.  By agreement, Tranche 3 (236 aircraft) was further subdivided, with Tranche 3A, comprising 112 aircraft, split 40/31/21/20 between UK/Ge/It/Sp.  Of the 4 consortium nations, all required the aircraft as an air superiority fighter; however, only the UK had identified secondary roles of surface attack and tactical reconnaissance, as Typhoon was planned to replace the Tornado F3 in the air defence role, and Jaguar in the ground-attack and tactical reconnaissance roles.  In the event, progressive reductions in the Tornado GR4 fleet, and the early demise of the Harrier force as a result of SDSR,  may result in an increased reliance on Typhoon’s air-to-surface capabilities.

These changes, added to progressive budgetary constraint and mirrored by similar situations in the other participating nations, have led to reductions in planned offtake – critical, since it was upon these that the production workshare agreements were formulated.  The UK, having originally envisaged 250 airframes, reduced to 232 in 1995; definitive final delivery numbers are commercially and politically sensitive, but open sources suggest that Tranche 3A may be the final production, which would result in a total UK fleet of 160.

The RAF Typhoon force, as it currently stands, consists of 4 front line squadrons, Nos 3 and 11, based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and Nos 1 and 6 based at RAF Leuchars in Scotland.  The Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) is No 29 Squadron, based at Coningsby; an OT&E squadron, No 17, also based at Coningsby, disbanded on 12 April 2013, and is planned to reform at Edwards AFB to fulfil a similar function for Lightning 2; its OT&E duties have been transferred to No 41 Sqn, which operates both Typhoon and Tornado GR4.  A fifth front-line squadron is planned, but will probably not be formed until after the planned move of Nos 1 and 6 Squadrons from RAF Leuchars to RAF Lossiemouth.

Pilots for Typhoon were initially intended to be drawn largely from the disbanding Tornado F3 and Jaguar forces, augmented from an early stage by ab-initio pilots.  The earlier-than-expected demise of the Harrier force added a further source of experience, especially in ground-attack.  Until now, ab-initio pilots destined for Typhoon have trained sequentially on the Grob (single-piston), the Tucano (single turbo-prop), and the Hawk T1 (single-jet).  The Hawk T1 has been in service since the mid-70s, and has aircraft systems and an analogue cockpit to match; the graduation to Typhoon presents quite a transitional challenge although, in the age of the ‘digital native’, young people are not in awe of advanced electronics.  The Hawk T2 has just entered service, with the first student course graduating in May.  Its glass cockpit, representative of Typhoon, plus emulated avionic systems, will make the transition much less precipitous in the future, and the Typhoon OCU staff have been involved in developing the T2 syllabus.  The current OCU intake is roughly 50%/50% ab-initio and cross-trained.

As befits its design and generation, the Typhoon is extremely easy to fly; it is, however, complex to operate, being impressively equipped with sensors, datalink, weapons and defensive aids, and the training emphasis is on sensor fusion and systems and information management.  Not for nothing has the old ‘priorities’ adage of ‘Aviate, Navigate, Communicate’ been adapted to ‘Aviate, Assimilate, Disseminate’.

First stop for the aspiring Typhoon pilot at Coningsby is the Typhoon Training Facility, a purpose-built unit, managed by BAE Systems, supported by both BAE Systems and Thales, and staffed by a mixture of RAF and contractor personnel; the TTF comprises groundschool – for both aircrew and maintenance personnel – and the simulators.  The groundschool instruction methodology reflects the few years since it was devised, in that much of it is delivered by lecture, using visual presentation, such as PowerPoint, in contrast to the emphasis in more modern suites on individual e-learning.  Nevertheless, the general view of the aircrew student body is that the training – directed at enabling the student to manage and understand the systems, rather than build a Typhoon from scratch – is effective.  One aspect of the equipment which I found curious was that there is no desktop or cockpit mock-up trainer in which to practise HOTAS switchery and systems management; this is accomplished in the Cockpit Trainer (CT) or Full Mission Simulator (FMS) but, again, without detriment to training.  Early courses were able to use an avionic demonstrator for these purposes, but this was not funded for through-life support.  There are plans to introduce an enhanced and supported version in the near future.

Synthetic Training for Typhoon is also the product of 4-nation co-operation through the Eurofighter Aircrew Synthetic Training Aids (ASTA) consortium.  The equipment at Coningsby comprises 2 FMS and 2 CT.  Additionally, at Leuchars, there are 2 Deployable Cockpit Trainers (DCT); the DCT was not a requirement of the other nations, and they were supplied to the UK by BAE Systems under a single-nation contract.  The FMS are 6-channel domes, with 360x130FOV, run from remote Instructor Operating Stations (IOS); the CT has a more limited FOV, but the visual is higher quality, and the variable weather effects excellent.  The HUD symbology in the CT is superimposed on the visual, rather than in the HUD itself, allowing close instruction direct from the co-located IOS.  Neither FMS nor CT has motion, but all have limited motion cueing. The equipment is to aircraft standard, and the software is rehosted, which adds complexity, and can lead to some fragility, such as occasional freezing of the display, but provides excellent fidelity.  The 4 ASTA devices at Coningsby are fully linked but, as yet, not with the 2 DCTs at Leuchars, nor are they yet linkable with live aircraft.  The simulator suite allows the option of either ‘training for training’ – ie preparing for airborne sorties under peacetime rules – or ‘training for the real world’.  Additionally, the recent introduction of a new Thales mission debrief system is already enhancing this aspect of simulator training.

Instructor manning of the simulators is in a process of change.  Early contractor personnel were experienced ex-RAF, but with no experience on type.  They were supplemented by experienced serving pilots, mostly en-route to Typhoon squadron tours, but again with no Typhoon time.  This required operational input for many sorties from OCU instructors, which impacted adversely on instructor availability on the squadron.  Now that the force is more mature, there is the opportunity for Typhoon-experienced pilots leaving the RAF to be employed by the contractor, thus obviating this requirement.

And so to the flight line.  The 29 Squadron staff comprises 24 Qualified Pilot Instructors (a Typhoon-specific qualification).  This number includes the Squadron Commander, 4 Flight Commanders, and a rich mix of experienced pilots, including Qualified Weapons Instructors (QWI), Qualified Flying Instructors (QFI) – a qualification transferred from other types – and exchange officers.  The OCU also incorporates a QWI Flight, which runs the weapons instructor courses.  The 16 aircraft are a mix of 2-seaters and single-seaters, including Tranche 1 Block 5 and Tranche 2 aircraft, which gives them an air-to-ground capability as well as air-to-air.  The 2-seaters can be flown solo, but carry a fuel penalty; therefore the standard fit is to carry 2 external tanks to give the same fuel capacity as a single-seater with a single fuel tank.  BAE Systems are responsible for deep servicing, and are under contract to produce an agreed pool of aircraft, from which the uniformed OCU maintenance personnel produce airframes to meet the needs of the daily flying programme.  Reliability is generally good, and the standard flying schedule of 2 waves of 8 aircraft is normally achieved without difficulty.

The OCU course is 18 weeks long, comprising 4 weeks ground school, 13 weeks flying and one administrative week.  There are 5 phases: Conversion; Attack; Air-to-Air Combat; Quick Reaction Alert (QRA); and Defensive Counter-Air (DCA).  The course is designed with a 65%/35% synthetic/live split; in practice, it works out at around 50%/50% because of the requirement to keep the instructional staff current.  The ground school phase includes 8 procedural and emergency simulator trips, and the Conversion phase can take the student to solo using the simulator only, without use of the 2-seater.  Air exercises include general handling and pattern flying, instrument flying to rating standard (with the IRT flown in the simulator), formation, land away and basic sensor handling, all by day and night.  Air-to-Air Refuelling is accomplished on an opportunity basis.

The attack phase comprises 4 sorties, all of which are flown in the simulator, and covers basic weapons handling, and use of PGM with both self- and co-operative target designation.  The air-to-air combat phase starts with 2 simulator sorties, but is mostly flown in the air, and covers offensive and defensive Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM), 1v1 Dissimilar Air Combat (DACT), normally against an F-15, and 2v1 Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM).  The QRA phase qualifies the student to Limited Combat Ready (QRA) (LCR-Q), thus permitting alert duties immediately on arrival on the front line.  The phase is heavily synthetic, because of the ability of the ASTA to replicate all aspects of the mission, from checking out the aircraft in the HAS through to the intercept, and simulating a variety of targets, from light aircraft through military to commercial airliners, at all levels. The preparation and qualification for the mission to mount QRA from RAF Northolt, in support of the 2012 Olympic Games, was all accomplished in the simulator. Lastly, the DCA phase explores all the intercept and weapons employment options open to Typhoon, from launch-and-leave to a planned merge, and scenarios progress to 2 v Many in multiple groups.  The aim on the OCU is to produce a reliable wingman, although ability and previous experience may allow further progression.

In all, the OCU syllabus, as currently accomplished, comprises 62 events, including: 42 hours of academics, not including the groundschool; 41 hours of simulator, plus 15 hours of periodic emergency training; and 41 hours of flying.  The success rate is impressive; thus far, only one pilot has failed the course, and 2 more have been suspended from front-line squadrons after graduating from the OCU.

Over the first few years as the Typhoon OCU, 29 Squadron has faced the task of manning the build-up of the front line in minimum time.  This task is now almost complete, but has been complicated by unexpected additional commitments, such as providing training for Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) pilots, following Saudi Arabia’s decision to buy Typhoon.  During the first few years, the Typhoon force has been largely protected, except at executive levels, from outward flow, but such postings – such as to the training system and to ground tours – are now beginning to happen, and this will generate a requirement for replacements on both the front-line and the OCU.

Typhoon was originally designed to combat a Cold War threat; the range of scenarios and theatres in which it might be deployed today are very different – indeed, the aircraft has already been employed in the Libyan campaign.  In the next edition of MS&T, I will look at operational and tactical training, to see how these exploit Typhoon’s capabilities in the new environment.