...at RAF Coningsby. After an eighteen-month disbandment, 11(F) Squadron stood up for the fifth time in its history on 29 March on a dark, damp and frankly quite dismal day. As seems the case with squadron stand-ups at Coningsby, the weather conspired to keep proceedings cold - not a day to be standing on a windswept parade, reports Gary Parsons.
The fourth Typhoon unit to be formed at Coningsby, 11(F) Squadron signals the start of a second phase of build-up to operational capability, this time in the swing-role air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. While 3(F) Squadron perfects pure fighter tactics, 11(F) Squadron will concentrate on establishing the RAF Typhoon's ground-attack capacity over the next fifteen months or so, with the intention of becoming fully combat-ready by 1 July 2008. 11(F) Squadron's new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Gavin Parker, explained: "We will begin delivery of the first Block 5 production standard aircraft soon, and will work-up our air defence capability by the end of 2007 while developing the air-to-ground role by the summer of 2008." Today EADS CASA delivered SS011 to the Spanish Air Force, the first Block 5 aircraft, representing the latest and last production standard of Tranche 1.
11(F) Squadron's reformation coincided with the MoD signing a contract to implement the 'Future Capability Programme' (FCP) for Typhoon, which will integrate advanced laser designation technology and precision munitions together with essential interoperability upgrades. The contract is valued at about £830m across the four Eurofighter partner nations (UK share £325m) and the first RAF aircraft to be upgraded are expected to enter service early in the next decade. Speaking in London, Defence Minister Lord Drayson said "This contract marks a significant milestone for Typhoon. The multi-role capability it provides is key to the RAF meeting the demands and challenges it will face in the twenty-first Century. The aircraft is already providing exceptional performance in its air defence capability and will shortly take on its first operational role - providing Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) cover over the UK." 3(F) Squadron will assume southern QRA on 29 June from 25 Squadron, supported by 11(F) Squadron later in the year.
In Germany, Eurofighter GmbH CEO Aloysius Rauen said "The contract we signed today covers the so called Phase 1 Enhancement for Tranche 2 aircraft. It will mainly focus on air-to-surface capabilities and communication improvements, positioning Eurofighter Typhoon at the forefront of Multi-role/swing-role fighter aircraft and underline the market leader position of the weapon system with unmatched capabilities." The Phase 1 Enhancement will include the integration of new weapons like Paveway IV and the EGBU-16 (Enhanced Guided Bomb Unit) alongside integrating a Laser Designator Pod (LDP) into Tranche 2 aircraft of all four partner nations. The 'Human Machine Interface' will receive performance upgrades required for the simultaneous swing-role operation, allowing a pilot to continue a bomb run while at the same time fight air attacks by minimising the pilot's workload in complex air warfare scenarios. The final Tranche 1 capability already covers air-to-ground operations with Paveway II and GBU-10/16 Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) plus conventional bombs and the gun. The Royal Air Force will receive Tranche 1 aircraft with an integrated LDP next year, these aircraft going to 11(F) Squadron and the balance to 3(F) Squadron.
Inspecting the parade at Coningsby was Air Marshal Iain McNicoll, and guest of honour was Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, Patron of the XI Squadron Association, and whose name adorns the cockpit of the squadron's Lightning F6 'gate guard' XR753, on display with Typhoon F2 ZJ931 and Tornado F3 ZE887. At present the squadron only has three aircraft, but deliveries will continue at roughly one a month until a full complement of fourteen aircraft and sixteen pilots is reached early next year. Four of the new pilots will be ab-initio direct from 4 FTS at RAF Valley, and some are ex-Tornado F3 navigators who have decided to move to the front seat (not that they have a choice with Typhoon!).
As the Typhoon will only use 'smart' weapons, most air-to-ground training will be done in the simulator with occasional live-firing on the Aberporth range. However, the Wash ranges will be used for strafing practice, so enthusiasts will get the chance to see Typhoon up close and personal at Holbeach and Wainfleet. Gav Parker fully expects the squadron to be the first Typhoon unit deployed to Afghanistan once it is ready in mid-2008, returning to the Middle East where much of the squadron's formative years were spent in the twenties and thirties.