Multirole Typhoon

Riccardo Niccoli describes Luftwaffe plans for its Eurofighter Typhoons

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A Typhoon assigned to TLG 31 loaded with one live GBU-48 precision-guided bomb on a mission to the Fort Irwin National Training Center range during Exercise Green Flag West 2018-07. Bundeswehr via author

Germany’s Luftwaffe has operated the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon since 2003 and has always planned to gradually expand its role from air defence and air superiority to a true multirole platform capable of air-to-ground missions as well. The dream became reality recently when the Eurofighter consortium completed test and development activities related to the introduction into service of the P1E (Phase 1 Enhancement) improvement package, which began, in its P1Ea version, in 2013 and was followed by the P1Eb version.

The Luftwaffe has ordered a total of 143 Typhoons (33 in Tranche 1, 79 in Tranche 2, and 31 in Tranche 3A), which are today assigned to four units:

Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader TLG (Tactical Air Force Wing) 73 ‘Steinhoff‘ based at Laage;

TLG 74 based at Neuburg. It’s former name, Mölders, was relinquished on June 11, 2005 for political reasons; TLG 31 ‘Boelcke’ based at Nörvenich and TLG 71 ‘Richthofen based at Wittmund.

Of the Luftwaffe’s four Typhoon wings, it was the former Tornado operator TLG 31 that was selected to be the first to start the transition to the new multirole mission, mainly because a high proportion of its pilots came from the Tornado and were already experienced in air-to-ground operations.

TLG 31 started to convert to the Typhoon on December 12, 2009 and the wing’s organization follows standard German practice. The Wing Commander is assisted by a staff responsible for operations and logistics. The flying operations commander oversees two flying squadrons, and the air traffic services squadron. On the logistics side, the commander of the technical group controls the flight line maintenance and armament squadron, the maintenance and electronics squadron and the supply and transport squadron. In total, the wing’s unit establishment is 1,085, 165 of whom are civilian employees.

Conversion to the air-to-ground role started in the summer of 2016 and took about 18 months. The wing was certified as qualified in December 2017 and on January 1, 2018 TLG 31 was assigned to the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force of the NATO Response Force as a multirole air asset for two years. Eurofighter claims the addition of an air-to-ground capability to Germany’s aircraft makes them swing-role platforms but the Luftwaffe rejects this. It considers its jets to have a multirole capability, because, for example, the aircraft is not yet cleared to fly supersonic with its bombs on board. A swingrole capability is a not yet realised ambition for the type.

The qualification process included a visit to Sweden’s Vidsel Test Range for bombing trials. Three aircraft from TLG 31 flew up there in September 2017 for trials managed by the Bundeswehr’s Wehrtechnische Dienststelle fur Luftfahrzeuge (Armed Forces Technical and Airworthiness Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment). Also known as WTD 61, the unit is based at Manching, Bavaria. The tests involved about 135 military and civilian personnel from TLG 31 and WTD 61. The only air-to-ground weapon cleared for use so far on Germany’s Typhoons is the 1,000lb GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II Laser and GPSguided bomb, a maximum of four of which at a time can be carried by Typhoon. The weapon has a range of up to 25km (15 miles) and can hit the target with a margin of error of less than 10 metres (33ft). It joins Typhoon’s usual air-to-air weapons, the AIM-120, and IRIS-T missiles and the Bk27 27mm Mauser cannon which can be used in both missions. TLG 31’s first GBU-48s were delivered to Nörvenich on December 18, 2017.

TLG 31 has a unit establishment of 31 jets including some two-seaters, mainly from the Tranche 3A production batch, although about 30% of the leet is made up of Tranche 2 aircraft. The unit’s commander, Colonel Stefan Kleinheyer told AIR International: “We have the most modern Typhoons in the Luftwafe, with the latest software release, the PSC.12”. Kleinheyer added: “The multirole conversion plan included several steps, such as the writing of all the procedures and training syllabus, the use of simulators, and the use of equipment and training facilities”. The use of simulators required special cooperation with Airbus Defence, as the Euroighter ASTA (Aircrew Synthetic Training Aids) full mission simulator was not yet upgraded with the PSC.12 software and did not enable air-to-ground operations. Airbus developed a cockpit procedures trainer equipped with touchscreens as a cheap solution to provide simulator training. The ASTA simulator at Nörvenich was being updated at the time of AIR International’s visit but was ready for air-to-ground training from September 2018. Training activity in Germany focused on the use of the Litening III targeting pod, through the execution of dry air-to-ground missions against ground targets such as bridges or buildings of military interest. Urban Close Air Support missions, where identiication of targets is diicult and vitally important are a training priority. Use of ranges was limited to dry releases, at Nordhorn Range, in Lower Saxony, in the north, and the Baumholder Training Area in Rhineland-Palatinate, and also on the Dutch range at Marne Waard, where they had the opportunity to work with German, Dutch, and British JTACs (Joint Terminal Air Controllers) on the ground. A key factor for air-to-ground operations is the targeting pod. According to Colonel Kleinheyer, who lew LANTIRN-equipped F-16s as an exchange pilot with the US Air Force: “We are very happy with our pod, it is a good pod, much better than the LANTIRN, especially in terms of resolution.

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Two of the Typhoons detached to Lulea Air Base, Sweden to use the test range at Vidsel in September 2017. The Luftwafe deployed Typhoons to Sweden to qualify employment of the GBU-48 dual-mode precision-guided munition. Each aircraft is loaded with a diferent GBU-48 payload; four munitions on the aircraft nearest the camera and two on the furthest jet. WTD-61/Bundeswehr via author
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TLG 31 personnel undertake load training with a GBU-48. S Petersen/Bundeswehr via author
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Colonel Stefan Kleinheyer is the current commanding officer of TLG 31 based at Norvenich Air Base. S Petersen/Bundeswehr via author

“So far, the conversion of our first pilots has taken about 12 missions each, but this was due to the fact that all those pilots were expert in air-to-ground operations on Tornado and F-16 fighters, the latter being pilots in exchange with the USAF. For young pilots, those coming directly from flying schools, we think that it will take them about two years to become fully operational pilots in the multirole business”. Today, young pilots fly only air-to-air missions. Pilots at TLG 31 fly an average of 120-140 hours per year. Some fly as few as 80 hours but others can reach 180. Type conversion on the Typhoon is assigned to TLG 73 at Laage, which runs a course lasting between six and eight months, depending on the weather conditions. Young pilots are only trained in air-to-air operations at Laage and do not attain any qualification. They gain their Limited Combat Readiness (LCR) rating a couple of weeks after having been assigned to an operational wing, and they are then authorised to perform Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions. Gaining their Full Combat Readiness rating (FCR) usually takes another two years (depending on the weather).

Green Flag gains

A fundamental step in the process of gaining a full multirole capability came in Spring 2018, with the participation of TLG 31 in exercise Green Flag in the United States. The ‘Boelcke’ Wing, took part in exercise Green Flag West 2018-07, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada from May 4 to May 18, 2018. A total of seven Typhoons, 13 pilots, and 160 technicians flew to the Nevada base, to carry out an operational test and evaluation (OT&E) and a validation of their air-to-ground capability. In about two-and-a-half weeks the TLG 31 detachment was able to fly about 140 missions (about 230 hours) in support of ground operations of the US Army in an exercise held at the Fort Irwin National Training Center, in California’s Mojave Desert, in conjunction with Green Flag. During the exercise, pilots were able to fly different airto- ground missions, chiefly close air support and time sensitive target missions and had the opportunity to release several live GBU-48 weapons. Kleinheyer avers: “This activity gave us a boost, gave us self confidence that all the test and training activities performed were planned and executed correctly and that the tactics adopted were the most effective. All the pilots were from our wing, and only one had an OT&E qualification, but he too was a pilot from the ‘Boelcke’ Wing.”

Operational readiness issues

No discussion of TLG 31 can avoid mentioning maintenance activity, especially in the light of recent government reports picked up by the German press. According to the Bundestag Armed Forces Commissioner’s 2016 Annual Report, it seems that in some cases, of 114 Typhoons assigned at that time to the Luftwaffe, only 38 were operational. In the 2017 report from the Ministry of Defence (issued in February 2018) about the operational readiness of the main weapon systems, the situation appeared to still be critical, as – on average – of 128 Typhoons in service only 39 were available for training and combat use. Problems of availability are common to all three German armed forces, but looking just at the Luftwaffe, they are due mainly to budget cuts imposed by the Ministry of Defence.

The Luftwaffe relies almost entirely on industry for its maintenance services and is pretty much at its mercy when it comes to maintenance schedules. The new Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, General Ingo Gerhartz said in Berlin in late June 2018 that Airbus Defence at Manching still works on a 400-800-1,600 flight hours maintenance schedule, while the Italian and British air forces have standardized on 500-1,000-2,000 hours. Moreover, while Airbus promised to deliver aircraft after seven months of work, the actual time seems to be about 14 months. In the interview the new Chief said: “The Luftwaffe is at a low point. Aircraft are out of service because of missing spare parts or are not even on site, because they are under inspection with industry. This is not acceptable”.

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TLG 31 Typhoons on the last chance check ramp before a training mission from Norvenich Air Base. Riccardo Niccoli
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A pair of Tranche 2 Typhoons assigned to TLG 31 configured for the air defence mission loaded with underwing fuel tanks and IRIS-T missiles. U Metternich/TLG 31 via author

Colonel Kleinheyer agrees with his boss: “Availability has been reduced due to cuts to personnel and spare parts acquisition, that dates back at least to 2010. We are slowly going up the slope, but availability depends also on different standards of Tranche and PSC software of our aircraft. The efficiency goes up and down in this period, but our target is to come back to an 80% rate.”

At wing level military personnel can carry out basic maintenance, replacing linereplaceable unit (LRU) components, but cannot repair them. The Luftwaffe does not have maintenance units or depots for higher levels of maintenance. From the 400 hours level onwards support activity is carried out by Airbus Defence through its System Support Centre at Manching, whose personnel is about 50% civil, and 50% military.

What does the future hold?

On his plans for TLG 31 Kleinheyer says: “For the future we are working to have all our pilots trained and qualified to operate as multirole. We are also working to introduce a wider choice of ammunition to the Typhoon fleet, including Small Diameter Bombs, and the Meteor airto- air missile. Also, the HEA (head equipment assembly) helmet-mounted sight will become available to all our pilots, and we have to reach a stable operational multirole capability. Also, the TLG 73 at Laage must become able to train all the Eurofighter students to air-to-ground operations, as in the future all the German Eurofighter wings will become multirole capable. It has not yet been decided if this process will involve one wing after the other, or all together at the same time.”

The Luftwaffe plans to add the GBU-54 bomb and the Trojan Improved Penetrator to the GBU-48 bomb to the Typhoon’s arsenal. The latter device increases penetration and has a reduced explosive charge to minimise collateral damage.

Today’s Luftwaffe is committed to two main efforts: improving its capabilities by transforming Typhoon to a true swing-role system and at the same time recovering from a situation of poor availability and efficiency of its fleets. Personnel at Nörvenich and other air bases are fully committed to providing a Typhoon fleet which is modern, reliable, and capable. Moreover, according to recent Government releases, it seems that a variant of the Eurofighter is favourite to replace the Tornado fleet, in a possible Tranche 4 production batch. If that happens, Germany’s skies will be graced by Typhoons for a long time to come.

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TLG 31 Typhoon 31+35 at Vidsel in September 2017, loaded with four inert GBU-48s. U Metternich/Bundeswehr via author