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Video Above: F-35s To Europe

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Switzerland and Finland have joined the world of F-35, a development which greatly impacts and strengthens any kind of integrated, networked European force structure. 

Denmark, Norway, Poland, Italy and the UK have all made measurable advancements with their respective F-35 programs. UK F-35s operated with US F-35Bs on board their HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, Denmark received its first F-35 and The Netherlands recently declared Initial Operating Capability with its arriving F-35s

All of these developments, many of them taking place together concurrently, significantly change the deterrence equation within Europe. This kind of development certainly raises the question of … why not send an operational, multinational F-35 force to Eastern Europe to hold potential Russian aggressors at risk? Could be extremely impactful.

F-35s & Germany

What about Germany? Germany is a member of NATO and might greatly contribute to multinational interoperability should the country embrace the F-35. 

However, over the course of the last several years, multiple reports have said that German decision-makers wound up deciding on the European Typhoon aircraft. 

One potential reason for this, as suggested in an interesting essay in The National Interest as far back as 2020, says this decision could be due to an interest in sustaining European manufacturing of Luftwaffe fighter jets. 

The National Interest story quotes experts and decision-makers discussing the jobs which production of a European Typhoon might generate. However, recent developments could impact this equation for several reasons. For instance, Lockheed continues to expand its forward maintenance, construction and vendor base within Europe to support its growing number of F-35 customers. 

Denmark F-35

Denmark F-35 Rollout Ceremony

This not only opens up possibilities for European-based vendors to subcontract and potentially contribute, but also brings the prospect of adding thousands of European jobs as well. 

Beyond any potential economic impact, there are growing strategic and tactical reasons why Germany might benefit from joining a multinational F-35 force. While there of course is the multinational networking advantages associated with the F-35 and its Multi-function Advanced Data Link (MADL) offering secure connectivity between the F-35s from different countries. 

This massively improves sensor-to-shooter times, surveillance data networking and targeting information transmission. There are also a host of innovations now emerging which extend improved connectivity between 5th and 4th generation aircraft able to extend a meshed network or tactical “kill web” able to respond in real-time to emerging threats. A collective European force of F-35s also multiplies numbers, perhaps aligning with Sun Tzu’s famous “mass matters” concept.

European Typhoon & Germany

Finally, there is a potentially endless discussion about capability and performance regarding the European Typhoon and F-35. Should the F-35 be more capable in terms of stealth characteristics, sensor range and fidelity, computing and weapons applications. 

The Eurofighter is in a process of continuous upgrading. Credit: Royal Air Force. UK Crown Copyright.

The Eurofighter is in a process of continuous upgrading. Credit: Royal Air Force. UK Crown Copyright.

Not only could a German F-35 interoperate to a much greater degree with many NATO allies and improve numbers related to a collective F-35 force, but it might also introduce a new level of technological sophistication and upgradeability for the Luftwaffe, given the expected service life of the F-35. Current thinking suggests that the F-35, with its potential to be upgraded through software to expand sensing, communications and its weapons envelope, may fly and remain extremely relevant and impactful well into the 2070s

European Typhoon 

The combat-tested European Typhoon fighter is now being armed and upgraded with new weapons, firepower, targeting technologies, radar and sensors to ensure its viability for future war, according to a recently posted image on the Eurofighter Typhoon website.

The image shows what may be yet another upgrade to the fighter jet, as it is shows a “Beast Mode” configuration with 14 Meteor Beyond Visual Range weapons and two Infrared Imaging System Tail-Thrust Vector Controlled short-range air-to-air missiles, along with an external fuel tank for extended missions.

The Typhoon fighter, a versatile supersonic aircraft now operated by the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Saudi Arabia and Oman, has been in service in 2003.

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In recent years, the Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role aircraft has been equipped with a new precision-guided, stealthy long-range cruise missile and an active electronically scanned array radar system, company officials told me at the Farnborough International Air Show as far back as 2014. .

The Typhoon has also been armed with the high-tech Storm Shadow missile, currently configured onto the Royal Air Force’s Tornado aircraft. Built by design with a smooth stealthy exterior, the Storm Shadow weighs about 1,300 kilos and uses a multi-mode precision guidance system including GPS, inertial navigation systems and terrain reference technology, Paul Smith, former UK Royal Air Force pilot, Typhoon operational test pilot and Fighter Weapons School Instructor, told me at Farnborough in 2014.

In service since 2003, the Storm Shadow’s first use in combat came during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was also fired against hardened targets during NATO military action in Libya in 2011. Smith said the weapon has a 200-km range and was used to destroy Saddam Hussein’s bunkers at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The weapon was reportedly so accurate that it fired two missiles through the same hole in a bunker. The Storm Shadow uses a BROACH warhead, which features an initial penetrating charge to clear soil or enter a bunker, then a variable delay fuze to control detonation of the main warhead.

Operating as a defense industry conglomerate involving BAE Systems, Airbus Defense and Space and Alenia Finmeccanica, Eurofighter made an acquisition deal with European Missile-maker MBDA to integrate the Storm Shadow missile onto the Typhoon.

The Typhoon enhancements have also included the addition of a short-range stand-off missile called Brimstone II, a precision-guided weapon that has also been in service on the British Tornado aircraft. Originally designed as a tank-killer weapon, Brimstone II is engineered with an all-weather, highly-precise millimeter wave seeker, Smith said. In Afghanistan many years ago, a Brimstone was used to destroy an Al Qaeda terrorist on a motorcycle traveling at 60km per hour.

Overall, the aircraft previously had 13 hardpoints for dedicated air-to-air missiles, some of which can be configured to drop bombs such as JDAMS. Smith elaborated that the GPS and laser-guided bombs carried by the Typhoon include 2,000, 1,000 and 500 pound GBUs and the Paveway IV, a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.

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 and it only about 15 years ago. 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 in recent years been flight testing a European missile called Meteor which greatly increases what pilots refer to as the “no-escape range” – the distance or point at which anair-to-air adversaryhas no ability to fly away from or “escape” an approaching missile, Smith said.

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 2000 engines on board the aircraft and the light weight of the aircraft. The Typhoon is built with 70-percent carbon fibercomposite 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 ofview comparedto 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 aircraft.

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 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 and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization