When UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the RAF’s F-35Bs were ready to deploy, having attained initial operating capability (IOC), he did so in front of four different RAF Fast Jets.
For the ceremony, held at RAF Marham in Norfolk on 10 January, an F-35B of the based 617 Squadron (the Dambusters) was joined by a Tornado GR.Mk4 from 31 Squadron, a Typhoon FGR.Mk4 from RAF Coningsby, and a full scale model of the FCAS TI (Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative) Tempest concept.
The RAF is due to retire its Tornados on 31 March 2019, and in preparation for this, the Typhoons have been upgraded under the Phase 3 Enhancement (also known as P3EA and as Project Centurion), which has seen the integration of two of the Tornado’s weapons – the MBDA Brimstone low collateral damage precision-guided missile and the MBDA Storm Shadow CASOM (Conventionally Armed Stand Off Missile), adding these to the Raytheon UK Paveway IV dual mode bomb, which is already used by both types.
This will allow the Typhoon to take over the Tornado’s roles, particularly on Operation Shader, as the UK refers to its operations against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State group) in Iraq and Syria. Project Centurion also saw the integration of the MBDA Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile.
IOC for the P3EA Typhoon was formally declared on 18 December, although they started using the new Meteor missile on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) before that, making a first live scramble with the new weapon on 10 December. The target is for 95 percent of the frontline Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 Typhoon squadron strength to have had the upgrade embodied by 31 March. The upgrade is not being applied to the RAF’s 40 or so surviving Tranche 1 aircraft, which will use the AIM-120D AMRAAM and Enhanced Paveway II dual mode bombs.