In Part 1, Dim Jones covered the initial training of the RAF’s Typhoon pilots, through the Operational Conversion Unit, No 29(R) Squadron, at RAF Coningsby, from which students emerged as LCR(QRA), or Limited Combat Ready (Quick Reaction Alert); this qualifies them to man one of the fully-armed aircraft which are at permanent readiness to preserve the integrity of UK airspace. In this second part, he addresses the process of attaining full Combat Ready status.
Some 250 miles north of Coningsby is the RAF’s other Typhoon Main Operating Base, RAF Leuchars in Fife, Scotland, home to two Typhoon squadrons, 1(Fighter) Squadron and 6 Squadron. Here QRA is given an additional dimension in that, although any of the tasks which pertain in the South also apply in the north, Leuchars is closer to the ‘threat’ from aircraft of the Long Range Aviation division of the Russian Air Force. LRA, like other arms of the Russian Forces, has recently been undergoing something of a resurgence - expanding and modernising – that reflects an increased emphasis on the armed forces as an instrument of Russian Foreign policy, and the availability of increased funding as a result of an improving economy. The associated LRA training activity manifests itself in an increased number of ‘reconnaissance’ flights into the airspace around the UK, especially during major national or allied exercises. Following the arrival of new pilots at Leuchars, the first priority is to familiarise them with this aspect of their role. Since any intercept can take place far from home, and from available diversion bases, air-to-air refuelling (AAR) qualifications, some of which may have been achieved on the OCU, are a pre-requisite; the remaining syllabus requirements will depend on previous experience. Lastly, on an opportunity basis – which might be necessitated by an imminent rotational deployment to the Falkland Islands - the aspects of QRA unique to operating in the South Atlantic theatre are also practised.
QRA requirements satisfied, the new pilot can concentrate on the business of building on the training received at the OCU to achieve full Combat Ready status. This, like the OCU training, is achieved in phases, and typically through a cycle of ground study and briefing, practice in the simulator, and consolidation in the air. The two Synthetic Training Devices (STD) at Leuchars are Emulated Deployable Cockpit Trainers (EDCT) and, unlike the simulators at Coningsby, were procured under a single-nation programme and provided by BAE Systems. The domes have a field of view of 220o by 120o, can be linked, and are positioned in the same room, so that they can be operated by a single instructor.
The first syllabus phase is Basic Fighter Manoeuvres and Air Combat Training, from 1 v. 1 through 2 v. 1 to 2 v. 2, and including dissimilar air combat. Next up is Defensive Counter Air (DCA), in which the scenarios start off simple, and are progressively increased in complexity, by means of variation in the number of friendly aircraft in the formation (up to 4), the numbers and capability of the threat aircraft (in terms of aircraft performance and weaponry), and the Electronic Warfare (EW) environment, all of which influence the tactics to be used. Target aircraft are provided from a variety of sources: Hawk aircraft of 100 Sqn; Falcon DA-20 EW specialist aircraft of FRA, a contracted service provided by Cobham; Tornado GR4 aircraft from ground attack squadrons; and, when enhanced aircraft performance is required, Typhoons from the same or other squadrons. In the latter 2 cases, there may well be the opportunity to achieve mutual training value, and full advantage is taken of any external major exercise, such as the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor (CQWI) course, and the biannual Joint Warrior, the UK’s major Land/Sea/Air exercise. DA-20s, Hawks and Typhoons operate in accordance with a pre-briefed scenario, simulating the performance and capabilities of potential opponents or enemies, and friendly tactics may be pre-planned on the ground using the threat information contained in the sortie intelligence briefing. Planning is assisted by the Typhoon Advanced Mission Planning Aid, a computerised system which loads data on to a portable ‘brick’, from which it is then transferred to the aircraft mission and navigation computers. The trainee pilot will fly all of these exercises as a wingman (in the case of a 4-ship, as either No 2 or No 4); however, although the wingman’s primary role is to support the element leader, it requires an intimate knowledge of procedures, individual responsibilities and tactics, great situational awareness, and extremely precise communications. Accurate sortie debrief is achieved through a synchronised download of each aircraft’s Recordable Memory Module (RMM) data. These digital solid state disks record the information displayed on the 3 MFDs and the HUD plus the intercom and radios.
The last phase in the air-to-air CR work-up is Offensive Counter Air (OCA); once more, the scenarios start off simple and progress rapidly to very complex. In my mud-moving days, OCA meant attack on the enemy’s defensive air capability – such as airfields and the air defence network. In Typhoon parlance, however, roles include sweep and escort, the defining distinction being that these operations are being prosecuted in hostile airspace, with the additional need to counter the surface-to-air threat, the tactics for which can be practised on the Electronic Warfare Training Range (EWTR) at Spadeadam, or an equivalent facility. All of the DCA and OCA exercises are flown by day and night (using NVGs), and in IMC. The final hurdle in this part of the CR work-up is a Tactical Check, which can include elements of any of the DCA or OCA roles, successful completion of which results in the award of Combat Ready (Air Defence) - CR(ADX) - status.
The air-to-surface work-up, which can run concurrently with the air-to-air, centres on the delivery, generally from medium level, of precision-guided munitions (PGM) such as the Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bomb. Designation for this weapon can be either from the aircraft delivering it (self-designation) or from another aircraft (co-operative), and will be effected by the Rafael Litening III pod, which can also be used for reconnaissance. Initial target acquisition will often involve a Forward Air Controller (FAC), this role being Close Air Support (CAS). Once again, the CR syllabus covers all the possible applications of the Typhoon in the air-to-ground environment, and the scenarios become increasingly complex, each new phase being accomplished using the established academic training or briefing, simulator practice and live mission. Again, full use is made of external training opportunities such as Joint Warrior and CQWI. Successful completion of the air-to-surface phase and accompanying tactical check will result in the award of full CR (MultiRole) status.
In all roles, the initial qualification standard is to be an effective wingman (in a 4-ship formation, either No2 or No4), but full account is taken of previous experience as a formation or element lead to qualify pilots in these positions, and formal work-up programmes are established in each role. In order to facilitate this training, wingmen will often fly in the element or formation lead positions, while the already-qualified supervising pilots will be flying as their wingmen.
The speed with which this training can be accomplished will, of course, depend on the training opportunities available, and aircraft availability. Most pilots regularly achieve 15 to 25 hours per month; supervisors and instructors are in high demand to continue to deliver training at all levels as the Force grows and matures. Superimposed on the normal training cycle are exercises and detachments; No 1(F) Squadron at Leuchars recently returned from a major multinational exercise in Malaysia, Exercise Bersama Shield 13. Other participants were the host nation, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. On the return trip, the detachment routed through Minad Air Base in the UAE, for Exercise Shahin Star, during which they had the opportunity to exercise with US forces based in Abu Dhabi, including F-22 Raptors.
The acme of operational training is generally recognised as being Exercise Red Flag, mounted out of Nellis AFB in Nevada, and a litmus test of training effectiveness is performance in actual operational conditions. No XI(F) Squadron have recently returned from Red Flag 13-3, and the Typhoon force conducted its first live operations during Op ELLAMY, the Libyan campaign, in 2011. Deployment to the US was by RAF air-to-air refuelling to Langley AFB in Virginia, where the Typhoons took part in Exercise Western Zephyr, which allowed them to train with the F-22s of the 27th Fighter Squadron, and with other East Coast air assets, practising, among other things, 4th and 5th Generation integration tactics.
Onward transit to Nellis was by USAF AAR. For Red Flag itself, XI(F) deployed 8 single-seat aircraft, and one 2-seater, all equipped to the latest software and radar standards . Exercise participation – 145 aircraft from 65 separate units - was limited to US forces (USAF, USN, USA and USMC), the RAAF and the RAF. In the course of the developing exercise scenarios, the Typhoons flew as Blue (friendly) Forces, and were employed by day and night in the full spectrum of the aircraft’s roles, including DCA, OCA (Escort and Sweep), and Multi-Role (including Swing- where the aircraft performs more than one role in the same sortie). Some of the air-to-ground tasking included Dynamic Targeting, and squadron pilots also acted as the Mission Commanders for composite force missions. The exercise demonstrated Typhoon’s interoperability and integration with other aircraft and forces, capitalising on its strengths: Specific Excess Power (SEP) – high and fast; the ability to transition from CAP to tactical; and its defensive manoeuvring capability. Typhoon also brought valuable assets to the party; radar, IFF interrogator, and Defensive Aids Sub-System (DASS) all provide situational awareness, which can be shared with friendly forces through MIDS, using Link 16 data transfer, including voice.
At the outset of Op ELLAMY, Typhoons were first warned for movement on 17th March 2011 and, by 20th March, 10 aircraft were in transit to the southern Italian air base at Gioia Del Colle. Their initial role was to be air superiority but, as it rapidly became apparent that Col Qaddafi’s air force posed little threat, notice was given to transition to air-to-surface operations on 31st March, and the first multi-role sortie was flown on 7th April. Typhoon squadrons had not trained in this role for over a year, and the ability to make the switch so quickly (after 2 simulator sorties to refresh key skills) bears testament to both the ease of operation of the aircraft, and the quality of previous training; the second cadre of pilots deployed had no previous air-to-ground experience at all. The Typhoons returned home on 23rd September, having flown 613 missions and released 234 weapons, with impressive results. As demonstrated at Red Flag, they were able to integrate with RAF Tornado GR4s, and with aircraft of other forces, and provide valuable SA and force protection.
So what of the future? The evidence of major exercises and operational experience thus far is that Typhoon training is effective, and the OCU course makes good use of its STDs. The recent graduation of the first course from the new Hawk T2 syllabus should also raise the Typhoon OCU input standard. Expected weapons enhancements include the Meteor AAM, Paveway IV LGB, Storm Shadow stand-off missile, and Brimstone anti-armour weapon. However, live flying is increasingly under pressure, both financial and environmental, and complex training exercises are both difficult to set up and expensive. The MoD has announced a target of 50%/50% live/synthetic operational training by 2020, but there is not yet much evidence of the Leuchars STDs being much used for post-graduate training. The 2 Leuchars squadrons will move to Lossiemouth in 2014, where a third squadron will form, militating for a significant increase in both capacity and capability in the STDs. Increased operating times can only do so much; investment is required. Although cockpit and visual display upgrades for the Leuchars EDCTs are already in the pipeline, and BAE Systems will shortly carry out a trial on improved connectivity, and, of course, existing simulators will continue to be supported, I am not much comforted by the admission by the MoD (MS&T 1-2013) that ‘not a single pound has been earmarked in the UK defence budget for [new] simulation post-2015’.