Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZJ935/DJ, RAF No.11 Squadron, Operation Ellamy deployment, Gioia del Colle Air Base, 2011.
Now a familiar sight in Britain's skies, the Eurofighter Typhoon is the RAF's current airspace defender and whilst the aircraft entered service in back in 2006 as a dedicated air superiority fighter, this fourth generation combat aircraft has gone on to prove itself to be much more than this.
Now described as the world's most advanced swing-role combat aircraft, the Typhoon has developed into a true multi-role aircraft and arguably one of the most effective combat aircraft in service today, equally adept at undertaking reconnaissance and precision ground strike missions as it is at chasing off the latest Russian aircraft incursion into British airspace. Forming the backbone of the modern Royal Air Force, the Typhoon has been continually upgraded throughout its service life and is a far more capable aircraft today than the one which first arrived at RAF Coningsby back in 2006.
In early 2010, ten Typhoons from RAF No.XI Squadron were sent to operate from Gioia del Colle Air Base in Southern Italy as part of 'Operation Ellamy', Britain's contribution to Operation Unified Protector, an international effort to enforce a United Nations resolution to protect the citizens of Libya during a bitter civil war in the country. The Typhoon's initial task was to help enforce a blanket no-fly zone, with coalition aircraft threatening to shoot down any unidentified aircraft in the zone, effectively crippling the Libyan military from mounting operations which may result in civilian casualties. Ellamy would be the first time the Typhoon had been deployed in an operational role and on 21st March 2011, RAF Typhoons completed their first combat mission, patrolling the no-fly zone in a show of strength which kept the Libyan Air Force firmly on the ground.
Much of the early coalition air force effort was directed towards suppressing Libyan air defences and their command and control infrastructure, whilst dedicated interceptor aircraft mounted Combat Air Patrols to ensure the security of aircraft involved in ground operations. It soon became clear to Libyan officials that mounting air operations in the face of such a powerful opposing force was futile at best and with negligible threat to coalition aircraft, the RAF's Typhoons soon converted to an air to ground role. Working in tandem with Tornado GR.4 aircraft, the Typhoons performed their new role with distinction, with the 12th April 2011 marking the aircraft's first operational use in a ground attack role, as aircraft launched strikes against Libyan armour.
The RAF's Tornados and Typhoons performed the strike role working in unison, with the more capable radar and communications technology of the Typhoon allowing their pilots to link with the Tornadoes and harness the awesome attack capabilities of this proven performer. With Tornado crews being extremely proficient in this tactical strike environment, they were able to support Typhoon pilots who were using their aircraft in this role for the very first time.
Whilst engaged in these tandem strike operations, the reduced air threat now facing Operation Ellamy Typhoons often allowed them to carry a reduced number of air to air missiles, a weight saving measure which preserved fuel and shortened turnaround times, whilst the aircraft were hauling heavy precision guided munitions. Often carrying just a single AMRAAM on the front port station, these aircraft would also carry up to four Paveway laser-guided bombs in what not only proved to be an effective show of force for coalition air power, but also clearly highlighted the continuing maturity of the RAF's Typhoon as one of the world's premier combat aircraft.
Royal Air Force Typhoons would perform impressively during their Operation Ellamy deployment, with aircraft conducting 578 sorties between March 2011 and their eventual withdrawal the following September, flying more than 3,000 hours in the process. In the ground attack role, they would release 234 'Smart Bombs' on targets ranging from armoured vehicles to command and control installations, working seamlessly with the Tornado crews who were well versed in undertaking these types of missions.
In an ever evolving operational environment, the retirement of the RAF's Tornado force in 2019 brought about the transferal of ground attack responsibilities to the Eurofighter Typhoon and whilst this move clearly underlined the wider operational effectiveness of the aircraft, it did also place additional strain on the aircraft currently in RAF service. As a true multi-role aircraft, the Typhoon now has even greater responsibilities than it did during its time serving during 'Operation Ellamy', however, as it's now able to wield an incredible array of offensive weaponry, in addition to patrolling Britain's skies, the Typhoon can also claim to be a formidable air to ground platform.