For 12 Squadron pilot, Squadron Leader Luke Wilkinson, the deployment is something the group has been working towards for several years.
“It's the absolute capstone of what we're doing,” he says. “It's a great honour to be representing the RAF at a global event but also providing assurance and safe skies for the fans, for the participants and for the organisers of the World Cup in support of our colleagues.
“We’ve got a good pedigree in terms of major sporting events. I was working on the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and so we fully understand the demands of a layered defence at a global event.”
Luke believes Eurofighter Typhoon has the perfect capability set for the role.
Eurofighter brings height, speed and reach. These are the keys of air power as far as we're concerned. We will be there as a constant presence and we'll be able to react to an absolute multitude of threats very, very quickly.
“There’s nothing quite like the power that comes from the Typhoon in terms of thrust. It is an absolute dream to fly.
“Eurofighter is an ideal platform for air security. We proved that at the Olympics. But it is part of a layered defence — there'll be other units from the UK Armed Forces supporting the Qatari armed forces with their defence and protection of the World Cup.”
Squadron Leader Wilkinson
For Luke this posting is the pinnacle of an impressive RAF career. He has been part of the 12 Squadron from the start in 2017. The Squadron Leader says: “I marched up Horseguards Parade in London to pass the standard to the Emir of Qatar who, in turn, passed it on to the Commanding Officers. I have watched the project grow from an idea into an amazing squadron. And to complete it at the World Cup, that's an absolutely fabulous experience.”
12 Squadron was instigated in 2017 and became a joint squadron in 2020 when the Qatari contingent arrived in the UK. Says Luke: “As their Eurofighter jets were being built, their pilots and their technicians were being built too, to provide them with a day-one capability at Dukhan Main Operating Base in Qatar. It was run like a front-line squadron, with British and Qatari pilots learning from each other.
UK and Qatari pilots prepare to depart
“We started out almost as customers but that quickly blossomed into allies, friends and partners. We have developed an excellent relationship with our brothers and sisters from Qatar who are operating the aircraft alongside us.
“We have been passing on our expertise, as well as using the facilities we have at RAF Coningsby. We gave our time and knowledge to making the project a success. We have helped produce an excellent capability for them that is starting to build up at Dukhan Air Base.
“Dukhan is a brand-new air base and is home to both 1 Wing, which is the Qatari Typhoon Wing, as well as the Rafale Wing. We will be working together and integrating both wings to ensure the Qatari Air Force is a potent force. It’s a full squadron deployment in Qatar and when we arrive we will be finishing off our combat-ready work-ups. Whilst in Qatar the squadron will also be conducting operational training under the banner of Project Thariyat.”
Air Commodore Yates (left) and Squadron Leader Wilkinson
12 Squadron is a unique squadron — the first of its kind for the RAF since the Second World War — and for Air Commodore Richard Yates, Senior Responsible Officer for the Qatar Air Programmes, it has been a hugely successful endeavour.
He said: “We have prepared the pilots and ground crew and provided them with experience in Typhoon operations in advance of the delivery of their aircraft. There are many lessons that have come from the programme, namely the role of partnerships and how the UK and Qatar have been able to work together to realise our shared vision that was set five years ago."
Of course, having the World Cup as a point on your project plan does focus attention. But it's been brilliant.
“ I've really enjoyed this programme. It's had the right amount of ambition, tied in with technical challenge.
“I think it was a really bold choice by the UK and Qatar to commit to the partnership and it has been highly successful. Qatar has taken delivery of its first four Typhoon aircraft and they are flying and active and have a cadre of trained pilots. Effectively, they have gain three or four-years’ experience ahead of receiving their first aircraft. That’s a huge step-up for any air force.
“We have been able to deliver on all the things we wanted to do; building their capacity and getting them ready to do World Cup duty within a few months of receiving their first aircraft.”
Air Cdre Hall adds Eurofighter brings a number of capabilities that make it ideal for the role. He says: “It's got state-of the-art sensors, it's highly reliable, it's high performance and it's well integrated. There are so many advantages of using Typhoon in this type of mission.”