The Eurofighter Typhoon could benefit from a major enhancement to its self-protection systems over the next five years to ensure that the aircraft is ready for future conflicts.
In late October the EuroDASS consortium comprising Elettronica, Hensoldt, Indra and Leonardo announced its overarching Praetorian Evolution modernisation concept for the eponymous self-protection system equipping the Eurofighter Typhoon series combat aircraft. In a press release relaying the news the consortium stated that the initiative will “ensure that the Typhoon keeps pace with rapidly-developing air and surface threats, such as networked, layered integrated air defence systems.” Such threats include Russia’s Almaz-Antey S-400 (SA-21 Growler) high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system, two of which have been deployed to Masyaf in the Hama Governate in western central Syria, and to protect the Khmeimim airbase in the Latakia Governate on the northeast Syrian coast which houses a sizeable portion of Russia’s deployment to the country. The attentions of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) airpower experts are now turning to the Almaz-Antey S-500 Prometey high-altitude SAM system which is expected to commence service with the Russian armed forces from 2020.
The Praetorian self-protection system combines an electronic support measure and radar warning receiver covering a 100 megahertz to ten gigahertz/GHz waveband. It comprises a laser warning receiver (only outfitting Royal Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force Typhoons); an electronic countermeasure and a radar-based missile approach warning system.
This June the Eurofighter GmbH consortium which includes Airbus’ defence and space subsidiary, BAE Systems and Leonardo was awarded a contract by NATO’s Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency for a feasibility study to examine the Typhoon’s modernisation to ensure that it can remain abreast of operational challenges for the next 30 to 40 years. Known as the LTE (Long Term Evolution) project, part of this initiative saw a specific contract awarded to EuroDASS to examine the potential modernisation path for Praetorian to protect the aircraft against emerging threats.
As a member of the EuroDASS consortium Leonardo is pressing ahead with examining modernisation options for Praetorian: “Over the last three years we’ve been looking at the potential threat environment,” Phil Liddiard, vice president for combat air at the company told Armada Analysis. The LTE initiative will present several modernisation options for the aircraft. These will then be presented to the Eurofighter partner nations namely Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. These respective governments will then decide which LTE proposals they wish to move ahead by funding these initiatives accordingly. Mr. Liddiard continued that proposals for modernising Praetorian focus on updating its hardware and software: “This will be a full upgrade, and will be a fairly substantial change from the hardware currently used in Praetorian,” he stated. The strategy of the EuroDASS consortium is to take the best ideas each of the partners has to offer, and fold them into the evolution of the self-protection system.
Several areas are being examined. These include the use of high speed Tactical Data Links (TDLs) to share threat information gathered by Praetorian with other aircraft, and also to receive live mission updates. This could include the delivery of updated jamming waveform protocols upon the discovery of a new radar threat in theatre. Such TDLs are one addition which could be added to the aircraft as a result of the LTE study. Other areas which may be investigated include Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The advent of cognitive electronic warfare, where EW systems can learn from previous experience and environments, and adapt their behaviour accordingly, offer promise: “We need to work now to ensure that the architecture can accommodate such approaches,”’ says Mr. Liddiard.
Despite expanding the aircraft’s self-defence capabilities, Mr. Liddiard and his colleagues are mindful of ensuring that the aircraft can comfortably accommodate any future enhancements: “As the new architecture will involve hardware and software modernisations, this will have to fit in around the aircraft’s power systems.” He adds that they will have to be conscious of potential changes to the airframe: “If we want to increase the frequency range that Praetorian can handle, then we may need to change antenna sizes,” and this could impinge on the overall airframe design.
EuroDASS has not yet taken any decision on how it could allocate work to upgrade Praetorian amongst the consortium members. Nonetheless a LTE contract to modernise the Typhoon as a whole could be awarded by the Eurofighter partner nations in circa 2021. Once this is in place, work will then commence on ensuring that Praetorian continues to guard the Typhoon for several decades to come.