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Dragon controls Typhoon in test of ultimate air and sea power
21 August 2013

The Royal Navy’s and RAF’s ultimate fighting machines joined forces in the Gulf for a major test of Coalition air power.

HMS Dragon and Typhoons of her affiliated RAF No.6 Squadron, plus US F15 and F18 jets linked up to test the ability of the destroyer and strike fighters to deal with targets on the ground.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Dave Jenkins, RN Photographer of the Year

YOU only get an ‘ooo’ with Typhoon.

Well, more of a roar and ‘Blimey, that’s a bit loud…’

A Typhoon climbs at breakneck speed after passing over HMS Dragon as the RAF’s ultimate fighter joins forces with the Navy’s ultimate air defence destroyer in the Gulf.

Jets from No.6 Squadron teamed up with the Portsmouth-based warship, with US Hornets and Strike Eagles also thrown into the mix for a major test of air and sea power.

The goal was to test the ability of the combined technology and skills of the aircraft and destroyer to detect, classify and monitor contacts on the surface in the challenging conditions of the Gulf.

Although Dragon and her five Type 45 sisters are classed as air defence destroyers, designed to shield the Fleet from incoming air and missile attack, they are not merely defensive weapons.

In the destroyer’s sprawling hi-tech operations room sit Fighter Controllers whose job it is to direct friendly aircraft on to targets – either in the air or, as Dragon’s forebears in HMS Liverpool did repeatedly during operations off Libya in 2011, on the ground as well.

One of Dragon's crew looks up from her forecastle at a USAF F15 overhead

In addition to her impressive suite of sensors and radars – the latter can track aircraft and missiles at distances over 250 miles away – HMS Dragon was aided by the presence of a US Air Force Boeing 707, a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft which tracks targets on the ground in the same way an AWACS aircraft keeps an eye on targets in the skies.

The American surveillance jet fed information directly into Dragon’s operations room, allowing the destroyer to cue fighters – US Marine Corps F18 Hornets, US Air Force F15 Strike Eagles and the Typhoons of Dragon’s affiliated RAF unit, No.6 Sqn – on to their objectives.   

“The JSTARS surface radar is incredibly powerful,” explained Lt Francis Heritage, one of Dragon’s Fighter Controllers. “When combined with our own sensors and those of the jets under our control, we can provide force protection over a massive area.” 

The ability of Dragon to interact with aircraft to help detect, classify and monitor surface contacts was practised in home waters, but not that regularly – and certainly not with the abundance of different, international jets to ‘play’ with.

A USAF F15 Strike Eagle dives as it passes over D35

But for Fighter Controller Flying Officer Dave Bowl, on exchange from the RAF, it was the chance to work with his own Service’s premier interceptor that was the best part of the exercise, which was split over June and July.

“This was a great example of how the front-line units of the Royal Air Force can work hand-in-hand with the Royal Navy’s most capable and advanced warship,” he said.

Dragon is in the second half of her inaugural deployment which is a mix of carrying out maritime security operations with the UK’s Gulf partners and contributing to the wider air defence of the region, such as the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group which she joined forces with a few weeks ago.