“The worst thing you can do on an operation is rush into a situation, take the wrong decision and make things worse,” says Wing Commander Paul ‘Pablo’ O’Grady, Officer Commanding of the RAF’s XI(F) Squadron. “That’s the truth behind any op. It’s about staying focused, compartmentalising and almost detaching yourself from the friction of the situation.”

This isn’t just textbook theory. Pablo and his Eurofighter Typhoon squadron have had plenty of real-life experience to draw on in recent months, not least on Operation Shader where the RAF has been part of a coalition of nations fighting the terrorist group Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Daily operations have been conducted from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus with the most recent missions being carried out using Typhoons that have been brought up to a new standard following a programme dubbed Project Centurion, which he describes quite simply as ‘phenomenal’. 

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Says Pablo: "From a front-line squadron perspective Project Centurion is all about getting new weapons on the jet, primarily Storm Shadow, Meteor and Brimstone. But that also brought with it a number of changes to the human machine interface. Those changes are necessary for us to deliver the new weapons, but they’ve also made our ability to operate the jet much easier. So, if I want to drop a Paveway IV I can do that much quicker. If I want to change from an air-to-air role to air-to-surface instantaneously, I can.

“We were the first squadron to go on Operation Shader with an (enhanced) P2E standard Typhoon and the first to declare Storm Shadow and Meteor fit for operation. During Shader, delivering close air support over the Euphrates River Valley or armed over-watch in Syria and Iraq, the new systems were a real step forward. 

“It’s much simpler than it used to be; makes the Eurofighter much more capable; the pilot is much more aware of what is going on around them; and we are much more able to switch from one role to the next. If you want to fire a missile against another fast jet and then almost simultaneously execute an air-surface attack you can.”

Project Centurion ultimately helps pilots have a clearer picture of what’s going on all around them.

“In Iraq and Syria there are coalition partners, Syrian fighters, civilian airliners, and Russian aircraft — and you’re in a very small bit of airspace. However, thanks to Project Centurion you sit there with a lot more situational awareness.

“When we are supporting the land component, with people on the ground needing your help, we need to be as quick as possible to make sure they are safe. But at the same time, we have to get it right... every time.”

INTO THE FUTURE BATTLESPACE 

Project Centurion represents the latest point of a spiral development programme that will take Eurofighter Typhoon into the future battlespace, where it will continue to play a vital role for decades to come. 

“We know we will be the backbone of the air force,” says Pablo. “It’s our job as squadron commanders, pilots and engineers to deliver air power and the Typhoon Force has to be able to deploy anywhere in the world, when we’re told to, and carry out any mission set whatever that might look like. That could be with Storm Shadow, Paveway IV, Meteor, AMRAAM, ASRAAM, Brimstone, whatever.

“It’s an exciting time with a lot going on. Where the Typhoon is now with Centurion is phenomenal. The jet’s exceptional with an impressive suite of systems and weapons.”

Naturally Pablo still has one eye on the future. Project Centurion may have evolved Typhoon’s capability but there’s plenty more to come.

“Looking at all the upgrades that are coming down the road, from the E-Scan radar through to smart expendables, it’s all about making sure that we can fight tomorrow’s war. For example, we know that our adversaries are very good at electronic attack, so we need to be a step ahead of them.”

PARTNERSHIP APPROACH

Weapons integration and software updates for a combat aircraft are complex and challenging projects. In that context the delivery of Project Centurion, over what was a pacey schedule, speaks volumes for the partnership work between the RAF and their industry partners like BAE Systems.

Says Pablo: “I’m well aware of the job the industry partners involved in Project Centurion play. The way they all came together to deliver Centurion was great. We saw first-hand how well things are working last summer when we upgraded to P3E whilst on operations. We were on operation over Syria and Iraq, whilst the jets were being upgraded at the base in Cyprus and had industry experts helping us.

“Having an upgrade programme going on while on ops is something that’s never been done before on this jet. But it was done for the greater good — to help the squadron that was due to follow us. It meant they could arrive and work with Brimstone on day one of their deployment. It made for a seamless handover. 

“Capability isn’t just the people in the cockpit, it’s everyone in between, including industry.” 

An experienced pilot,  Pablo  is in no doubt that Eurofighter is a class act. One that has proved its abilities all over the world.

ULTIMATE IN RELIABILITY

The UK’s RAF Eurofighter Typhoon squadrons have a heavy workload, with QRA and Air Policing roles alongside operations like Op Shader, but despite this the maintenance record is close to perfect. It’s a reliability record which is hugely impressive. Says Wing Commander O’Grady: “For me success on Op Shader was about making sure the Royal Air Force and in particular XI Squadron delivered what it is asked to deliver. That was getting jets airborne every day to fill the slots we’re assigned to fill, providing coverage over the area we’re supposed to be over at the right time. Then doing our job when called on — whether that’s close air support, delivering kinetic effects to help the ground situation or armed over-watch in support of coalition forces both in Iraq and Syria. And do it all in a safe manner with no mistakes. Yes, my engineers work incredibly hard but ultimately the jet’s really serviceable. I can’t remember when we did an engine change because it broke, it just doesn’t, the serviceability is exceptional.”

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