RAF Typhoon jet (Picture: MOD).
RAF Typhoon jet (Picture: MOD).
Weapons and Kit

BAE Systems asked to explore bringing retiring Typhoons back to life in a crisis

RAF Typhoon jet (Picture: MOD).
RAF Typhoon jet (Picture: MOD).

The Defence Select Committee has asked defence manufacturer BAE Systems to come back with answers on whether Typhoon fighter jets could be upgraded out of retirement after 2025, in case of "national emergency".

Up to this point, the firm has never been asked to produce any design studies on bringing out-of-action Typhoons back to life in a crisis, claims the BAE's air branch Chief Operating Officer Ian Muldowney, but the committee claims timelines drawn up pre-Ukraine war must be revisited.

The UK's current plans to phase out 30 Tranche 1 (the most basic batch of Eurofighter Typhoon, flown by the UK since the early 2000s) halfway through the decade prompted questions from the committee over a potential future gap in defence capability.

Sarah Atherton MP said a remaining 107 Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons set for continued upgrades will be "worked harder", will "fatigue quicker" and are likely to be "non-operational for longer periods as they get older".

Watch: Low-level Typhoons caught on camera. Credit: Simon Pearson-Cougill.

Meanwhile, the Tempest aircraft – hoped to underpin the future of combat air for the UK – isn't set to be operational until 2040.

Giving evidence to the committee on aviation procurement, Mr Muldowney said incoming radar and weapon fits to the Tranche 2 and 3, combined with the British fifth-generation F-35 fighter capability, should see the UK through to 2040 regardless of total aircraft numbers.

Mark Francois MP responded with a reference to the gradual decrease in combat aircraft in the RAF of the years – now down to seven frontline squadrons.

He said: "There is one scenario in which you get a brutal capability gap. It's called war.

A simulated picture of what the fighter jets of the future may look like, under the Tempest concept (Picture: BAE Systems).
A simulated picture of what the fighter jets of the future may look like, under the Tempest concept (Picture: BAE Systems).

"As we've got so few aircraft left, why does it make sense to retire about 30... shouldn't we at the very least put them in a war reserve?”

In the case of a "come as you are" war and regardless of costs, BAE doesn't know how long Tranche 1 crisis upgrades would take, but building one from scratch would take four years.

Unsure if Russia would grant its enemy that grace period and citing a seven-year lead time for F-35s, Mr Francois has asked the firm to write back with answers.

The 2021 Defence Command Paper, a playbook for UK defence moving forward in coming decades, brought the Tranche 1 retirement date forward five years from 2015's ambitions, and the outgoing 30 planes will have flown less than half of the airframe's maximum 6,000 hours.

Mr Francois was quick to point out that 2021's playbook came before Russia's invasion, which was "a total game-changer in defence", as he initiated the unprecedented contingency plan.

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