Why will the RAF retire Typhoons with over half their useful life left?

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The Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft being retired in 2025 will have average flying hours of almost 2,545 hours when they are taken out of service. 

That means they will have over half of their useful life left. AeroTime asked the Ministry of Defence why. 

RAF spokesman Martin Tinworth said on September 10, 2021 that retiring the older aircraft means investment can be made in the remaining Tranche 2/3s “to ensure we retain a credible, highly capable Typhoon force.”

“Spiral upgrades, including the integration of the UK-development Spear Cap 3, will be enhanced by a significant investment in Radar 2, providing a leap in operation capability that will ensure the Typhoon Force can survive and operate in the most challenging threat scenarios,” Tinworth explained to AeroTime.

When asked whether the Tranche 1 fighter jets could be sold, the RAF spokesman said “potential disposal options” were currently being reviewed. 

The average expected flying hours of the fighter aircraft at retirement was announced by James Heappey, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for defence in a written response to a question posed by a member of parliament. 

“There are 30 Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft in the sustainment fleet and the projected average flying hours for each of the aircraft, when they reach their respective Out of Service Date, is 2544.8 flying hours,” Heappey wrote on September 6, 2021. 

The fighter jet has a notional airframe life of 6,000 hours, meaning the hours at retirement represent just 42% of their useful life, Jane’s reported on September 8, 2021.

Of the 30 Tranche 1 Typhoons, 20 are in active use while the other 10 are stored at RAF Shawbury.

The Tranche 1 variant of the aircraft, the eldest of the four developed, is limited to the use of air-air missiles and has very limited air-ground capabilities without the use of an external pod. Therefore, it is often limited to air superiority missions such as Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) purposes by its operators. 

The overall RAF Typhoon Force is currently operating on multiple missions across the globe, including QRA missions in the UK, Romania and the Falkland Islands, as well as Operation Shader, the British contribution in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.

The retirement of the Tranche 1 Typhoon aircraft was announced in a Defence Command Paper published on March 19, 2021. The paper promised a “radical overhaul” of the RAF.

As part of the overhaul, the UK also announced plans to retire 14 C-130J Hercules Mk4 by 2023, to make way for the A400M. The Hercules aircraft had been due to continue flying until the mid 2030s.

Updated with MoD comment – September 10, 2021 1000 UTC

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