As the Royal Air Force looks beyond the Libya air campaign and the combat debut for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the force is eager to keep at least some of its pilots in air-to-ground combat.
The move would mark a shift from the situation prior to Libya, when Typhoon pilots qualified in air-to-ground combat had to regain their currency in order to full participate in the operation. In the end, all pilots involved in the Libya operation were qualified for air-to-ground missions, with 50% cleared to operate the Litening III laser designator pod.
The immediate focus for RAF Typhoon pilots is now to regain their air-to-air currency, but Wing Cdr. Dicky Patounas officer commanding 3(F) Squadron says the goal is to preserve air-to-ground currency as well. “In my squadron, all pilots are current and we aim to keep that up as long as possible.”
The service has already performed an initial after action assessment, comparing its lessons learned with upgrade plans and determined it will not make any changes to plans it has for fielding enhancements on Typhoon; making such changes is not easy in part because of the complex four-nation structure through which the program is managed.
The war itself did force planners to make some adjustments. For instance, at the outset of the campaign, training was accelerated to teach personnel how to load the cryptological codes for secure radio communications. That was not due until later. Similarly, a software update was delivered, called SM167, which made adjustments in the displays, including how air-to-ground information is entered. The RAF also had to validate that the Litening III targeting pod is category two accuracy compliant to be cleared to hand off targeting data, Patounas says.
In addition to conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, Patounas says Typhoon’s defensive aids subsystem was used to provide situational awareness also for Tornado GR4s. Even in the absence of surface-to-air missile attacks, the electronic warfare system proved useful. In one case it detected an SA-3 that had been hit early in the conflict only to be repaired. The radar warning receiver information was used to strike the target again.
Overall, the RAF says it flew more than 650 sorties, logging more than 3,000 hours. Serviceability was maintained at 99%, with one precautionary engine change Patounas says in the end was not required.