The development of carrier aviation during the 20th century led to a dramatic paradigm shift in military capability. For the first time, navies had the ability to exert their influence far over the horizon – supporting land campaigns and allowing hostile fleets to be engaged from beyond the range of a battleship’s guns. From Pearl Harbor to more recent conflicts in the Falklands and the Middle East, the carrier and its aircraft provide commanders with an unrivaled ability to project military and political influence; several acres of sovereign territory which can be moved close to potential trouble spots at short notice.
Historically, carrier aircraft have been highly specialized and designed specifically for the role. In the majority of cases, there is little or no commonality between the aircraft operated by a nation’s air force, and the different aircraft performing the same role in the Navy. Design decisions taken in order to optimise an aircraft for carrier operations can lead to trade-offs elsewhere – such as additional weight and low-speed handling characteristics that compromise performance in other areas of the envelope.
A classic example today is the F-18 in all its versions, heavy, slow and not capable of facing the most advanced threats emerging around the world.
For a number of years, Eurofighter GmbH and its industrial partners have been studying the feasibility of adapting Eurofighter Typhoon for the naval role. These studies have included the assessment of required design changes, piloted simulations to refine the aircraft’s handling qualities and discussions with key suppliers. The studies indicate that these changes are feasible, and would lead to the development of a world-beating, carrier-based fighter aircraft.
READY FOR LAUNCH
Modern carrier aircraft typically take off with the use of a catapult that attaches to the nose gear. These catapults are expensive to procure, maintain and operate. Catapult launch also leads to a heavier aircraft as a result of the additional weight on the aircraft’s structure.
Typhoon is well known for its exceptional thrust-to-weight ratio which has been regularly demonstrated at air shows and in customer flight trials. It also allows the aircraft to take off from a carrier using a “ski-jump”. Detailed simulations have shown that the aircraft will be able to take off in this way with a full weapon and fuel load – providing a nation with a truly potent naval aviation capability.
Clearly one of the major challenges for any carrier-based aircraft is the arrested landing. Carrier aircraft fly a steep approach path and are brought to a halt rapidly by the arrestor gear. This leads to much higher loads being generated than would be the case for a land-based aircraft. Navalized Typhoon tackles this problem in two ways.
- The introduction of a thrust-vectored variant of the Eurojet EJ200 engine would allow for a reduction in the aircraft’s approach speed and the resulting landing loads. Thrust vectoring (Engines with TVN are already tested on bench) could be fully integrated into the Typhoon’s advanced Flight Control System (FCS), allowing the pilot to focus on flying the approach path while the FCS manages the engine nozzle position.
- The basic design of Typhoon also works in its favour during an arrested landing. The aircraft’s structure is exceptionally strong, having been designed from the outset for the high dynamic loads associated with extreme air combat maneuvering. This helps to minimize the structural changes required to enable carrier operations – usually seen as the biggest obstacle to developing a carrier-based variant of the aircraft.
In any discussion of a navalized Typhoon, the differences from the land-based aircraft are the natural focus. However, one should also focus on the similarities. A key design driver for a navalized Typhoon has been to maximize commonality between the two variants. Design changes are minimized, allowing for many spare parts and test equipment to be shared across a customer’s air force and navy fleets. The sensors, systems and weapons available to both variants will be common, allowing for a reduction in the aircrew training requirements. And in addition, the two variants will benefit from a common upgrade path – new capabilities will be available to both the air force and navy in similar timescales.
The introduction of Thrust Vectoring potentially provides an additional boost to Typhoon’s capability. The ability to change the angle of the engines’ thrust will allow for a further enhancement in Typhoon’s already outstanding maneuverability, supercruise performances, fuel consumption and the handling of asymmetric weapon configuration.
When this is added to capabilities such as the Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS), AESA radar and advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, the result is a truly world-beating multi-role aircraft. One that could also operate from an aircraft carrier.
Eurofighter has already discussed a navalised Typhoon with a number of potential customers and is keen to pursue this exciting new phase in Typhoon’s development. Naval aviation will undoubtedly continue to provide nations with a flexible option for projecting power over the coming years.
In an increasingly affordability-conscious world, commonality between a nation’s air force and naval aviation fleets will be of increasing importance. A navalised Typhoon can deliver this commonality, without compromising on capability.