AIRSHOW-Old Tornado jets no crutch for Typhoon in Libya-pilot
LE BOURGET, France, June 19 |
LE BOURGET, France, June 19 (Reuters) - The ageing Tornado and the Eurofighter Typhoon's joint sorties in Libya give a tactical advantage to both warplanes and the older jet is not babysitting the younger, a UK air force official said on Sunday.
While enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya since mid-March, the modern Eurofighter, which had not been used in real-life combat since its introduction in 2003, has generally been accompanied on missions by Tornado jets, which have been used in air-to-ground combat for some 20 years.
"It may seem strange to fly with the Tornados but it's worked well," UK Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Rupert Joel told reporters at the Paris airshow.
Asked whether it was not odd that the Typhoon -- one of the most modern warplanes on the market today, with a list price of around $125 million -- was being accompanied by the veteran Tornado, Joel said the pairing gave the British pilots an edge.
"The advantage of flying 'mixed pair' is that there are three different types of weapons available for use as well as the fact that Typhoon can use the benefits of the Tornado, whose pilots have huge experience of air-to-ground missions," he said.
The Typhoon, produced by Britain's BAE Systems (BAES.L), Italy's Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI) and pan-European aerospace firm EADS (EAD.PA), has been attacking ground targets with laser guided bombs alongside the Tornado and Dassault's (DAST.PA) Rafale for more than three months.
The fighter has made precision hits against stationary tanks and artillery command posts, according to the UK's defence ministry.
The Typhoon was originally designed for air-to-air combat but had air-to-ground capability added in 2008, turning it into a 'multi-role' jet.
The British military has admitted that the Typhoon's air-to-ground missile attack capability was activated several years earlier than planned but said pilots were well-trained enough to conduct bombing raids.
"It's true to say we had not done a huge amount of multi-role training before the Libyan conflict," said Joel, who added the operation has gone well for the Typhoon team so far.
Some military analysts view the deployment of the Typhoon and the French Rafale in Libya as a move to give the two aircraft battlefield credentials in an effort to win orders.
The Indian government, which is looking to spend some $12 billion on 126 fighter aircraft plus options, is still mulling which jet to buy.
The Typhoon is not designed to operate from aircraft carriers and the jets are stationed in the Gioia del Colle air base in south-east Italy.
With pilots having to fly more than 600 kilometres just to get to the Libyan coastline, the average mission to support the no-fly zone lasts five and a half hours, with some missions topping the nine-hour mark.
"We are concerned about fatigue," Joel said, adding that the constantly changing day shifts and night shifts were troubling the pilots' sleep cycle.
"Italian espresso coffee keeps us going though," he said.
NATO has been pounding targets in Libya for months in what the alliance says is an operation to protect civilians who rebelled against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. [ID:nLDE72H00G]
Libyan officials on Sunday alleged a NATO air strike hit a civilian house in the capital, killing several residents. [ID:nLDE75I04G]
Strains are appearing within NATO member states as the campaign drags on for longer than most of its backers anticipated and Gaddafi remains in power.
Earlier this month Mark Stanhope, the head of Britain's Royal Navy, said the UK would face "challenging decisions" on force levels and must change its priorities if the mission exceeded six months.
Joel declined to comment on Stanhope's comments. (Editing by Geert De Clercq)
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