Many countries likely plan to fly the Eurofighter Typhoon well into future decades, due to a high number of ongoing upgrades. The fast-moving attack fighter jet, which seems to align strategically and in configuration with U.S. F-15s and F-16s to an extent, entered service in 2003. Nevertheless, many participating Typhoon countries, which include Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, the U.K., Saudi Arabia and Oman, have embraced a handful of weapons upgrades intended to propel the fighter into future decades.
This not only makes sense but also parallels key U.S. efforts to sustain and upgrade the operational functionality and effectiveness of some of its combat tested platforms such as the F-15 and F-16. These two U.S. fighters have been upgraded so much they could almost be described as being new planes, given that they have new weapons, radar, computing, avionics and advanced sensors which dramatically improve performance.
For example, the Eurofighter has added a European missile called Meteor which greatly increases what pilots refer to as the “no-escape range.” That is the distance at which an air-to-air adversary has no ability to fly away from or “escape” an approaching missile, Paul Smith, former UK Royal Air Force pilot, Typhoon operational test pilot and Fighter Weapons School Instructor, told me during a discussion at the Farnborough air show several years ago.
Smith also said the Typhoons air-to-air capability and overall performance is massively increased by what he referred to as the aircraft’s “thrust to weight ratio.” Defined as the weight of the engine compared to the amount of thrust the engine generates, the thrust to weight ratio is a key indicator of speed, maneuverability and aircraft performance.
The Typhoon can travel at Mach 2, and the Typhoon engines’ thrust to weight ratio is 9.3 to 1, making it the best in the world, Smith said. Smith said the Typhoon has a thrust-to-weight ratio comparable to the F-22 Raptor. This is accomplished in part by power emanating from the two Eurojet 200 engines on board the aircraft and the light weight of the aircraft. The Typhoon is built with 70-percent carbon fiber composite and is therefore said to be fast and very agile.
Prior software upgrades have enabled the Typhoon to operate with what’s called swing-roll capability, the technical capacity to perform several missions simultaneously such as fire missiles and drop bombs, Smith explained.
The Typhoon’s new active electronically scanned array radar, or AESA, will provide pilots with an expanded field of view compared to the existing radar system. The AESA provides a mechanical ability to rapidly reposition the receiver to increase the area it can pick up signals, Smith said.
The new radar is designed to work with other on-board sensors such as forward-looking infrared sensors and passive infrared tracking technology to locate stealth aircraft with a low radar cross section, he added.
Smith explained that the radar and sensors could combine to help the Typhoon locate aircraft such as the now-developing Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft, the Chinese J-20 and Russian Su-57.
The sensing technology on board the Typhoon fighter is called PIRATE, or passive infrared and targeting equipment, Smith said. It is a combination of infrared search and track and forward-looking infrared sensors.
As for cockpit avionics, the Typhoon has three large LCD displays which the pilot can switch between when assessing mission requirements. Many of the displays include situational awareness information such as moving digital maps, atmospheric information, sensor data and targeting information.
The Typhoon and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor have also participated in joint training exercises at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Smith said.
“The Raptor and Typhoon make a great combination. We work a lot with the U.S. Air Force to make sure our data links are properly integrated—that is key as a force multiplier,” Smith added.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.