The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine “teen series” fighters that began with the F-14 and F-15, continued with the emergence of the F/A-18 Hornet, and extends through to the most recent F/A-18 Super Hornet variants. Aerodynamically, it’s a half generation ahead of all of these examples, and planned evolutions will place the Eurofighter near or beyond parity in electronic systems and weapons.
he 1998 production agreement among its 4 member countries involved 620 aircraft, built with progressively improved capabilities over 3 contract “tranches”. By the end of Tranche 2, however, the 4-nation Eurofighter agreement still had 236 fighters left to go, even as welfare state programs and debt burdens were making that buy difficult to afford. A 2009 compromise was found in the EUR 9 billion “Tranche 3A” buy, and the program has renewed its efforts to secure serious export sales. Their success will affect the platform’s modernization plans…
The Eurofighter program emerged out of a long and conflicting set of multinational efforts to design a new European fighter. By 1983, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain had coalesced around the Future European Fighter Aircraft (FEFA) program. That partnership lasted only until 1985, as differences with France over carrier compatibility, weight limits, and French insistence on the lead industrial role, ended their partnership. Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain established Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH in 1986 to manage the Eurofighter project, while France went its own way and developed their Rafale fighter.
Both projects went on to develop clipped delta, canard-equipped twin-engine fighters, whose “radar shaping” designs significantly lowered their radar signature compared to earlier fighters like the Mirage F1, Tornado or F/A-18A-D Hornet. Even so, it would be a misnomer to call them stealth aircraft. The standard term is a “4+ generation” fighter, distinguishing them from “5th generation” aircraft like the American F-22A Raptor and Indo-Russian PAK-FA.
While the Rafale’s development emphasized weapon load and multi-role capabilities, squeezed budgets and ample fleets of strike aircraft led Eurofighter’s partner nations to focus on the air superiority role. An excellent aerodynamic design and good thrust to weigh ratio was fused with a very integrated set of electronic sensor and defensive systems, including a pilot-friendly cockpit design that offered the first use of voice commands in a fighter. This made Eurofighter’s Typhoon very capable in its chosen role, able to compete or best serving competitors short of the American F-22A Raptor. The plane even proved capable of armed supercruise during Libyan operations, but this was only possible with low-drag “4 + 2” air-to-air missile configurations, at high altitude, and to low Mach numbers.
Unfortunately for the consortium, this aerial combat strength ended up being the flip side of their biggest weakness. Initial “Tranche 1” machines were severely hobbled on the export market by their poor ground attack capabilities, a serious weakness in a world of multi-role fighters. When combined with the plane’s $100+ million cost, the result has been a slew of lost export competitions. Dassault’s Rafale, which had gaps of its own, could not capitalize on that failing, and is still looking for its first export win. Embarrassingly, the Eurofighter has usually lost to modernized, multi-role versions of the very F-16s and F-15s it was meant to supplant. That, in turn, has affected both prices and the pace of upgrades.
Britain has upgraded some of its Tranche 1 machines with LITENING surveillance and targeting pods, plus system upgrades that allow the use of some precision weapons. Other Typhoon owners are farther behind.
The Tranche 2 fighters that began delivery to member countries in 2008 have added precision ground attack capabilities, but still fall short of the full capabilities and weapon arrays offered by competitors like the American F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15E Strike Eagle. The lack of a helmet-mounted display (HMD) prevents the Typhoon from taking full advantage of its new air-to-air missiles, and removes a potential improvement for the ground attack role. The lack of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar leaves the Eurofighter a generation behind in radar technology.
Tranche 3 Eurofighters will reportedly be based on the Tranche 2 standard, with upgraded power systems and electronics that can more easily support future growth and upgrades. Those fleet-wide upgrades are ongoing; they include a BAE “Striker” HMD that is just now entering service, and an available upgrade to an “E-Scan” AESA radar by 2015.
Other upgrades that have been discussed but not committed have included upgraded thrust-vectoring engines to match modern Russian fighters and the American F-22, and even a Eurofighter carrier variant.
Even as these upgrades are being discussed, however, the Eurofighter’s export window as a leading-edge fighter choice is closing. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is aerdynamically inferior, but it offers a stealth fighter with a tested AESA radar, a wider array of sensors, and sensor fusion at an even higher level. By the end of this decade, 5th generation projects like theRusso-Indian PAK-FA will also become viable choices for some export targets.
Successful upgrades can keep the Eurofighter Typhoon competitive, even in that environment, if its production line lasts long enough. The key word will be “competitive.”
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For air-to-air combat, the Eurofighter currently relies on long range detection using its mechanically-scanned, phased array ECR-90 CAPTOR radar and PIRATE IRST (infra-Red Search & Track) system, coupled with an array of weapons that will include MBDA’s long range,ramjet-powered Meteor air-to-air missile. Current Typhoons can and do mount Raytheon’s medium range AIM-120 AMRAAM instead. Close-in dogfights can be handled using ASRAAM, IRIS-T or AIM-9Xmissiles, coupled with fast slew-and-point capability using its canards and soon, a helmet-mounted sight. Non-British Eurofighters will also have a 27mm Mauser cannon on board, considered by many observers to be the best fighter cannon on the market.
For precision attack, some British and German Eurofighters have been fitted with LITENING-IIIsurveillance and targeting pods, and later Typhoon versions are qualified to use GPS-guided and laser-guided bombs. Expansion of the Typhoon’s ground attack weapon choices is an ongoing process, with planned weapons including long range Storm Shadow and KEPD cruise missiles, medium-range PILUM glide bombs, short-range Brimstone light strike missiles, and ALARM anti-radar missiles.
The Typhoon’s Praetorian (formerly EuroDASS) self-protection suite is designed for 360 degreee coverage, with high automation. The Defensive Aids Computer (DAC) controls a package that includes Towed Radar Decoys, a Missile Approach Warner (MAW), wingtip ECM pods, and a Countermeasures Dispensing System (CMDS). They are integrated with each other, and with the Eurofighter’s radar and IRST.
Eurofighter: Industrial Structure & Orders
Eurofighter w. Paveway IIs
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Technically, the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) is the customer for the Eurofighter project. Eurofighter GmbH is the contractor, with joint ownership by all of the key industrial partners: BAE Systems, EADS, and Finmeccanica. Overall, Eurofighter GmbH cites a total of 100,000 supported jobs in 400 companies across Europe.
Aircraft production work shares were designed to correspond to the number of aircraft ordered under the 1998 Umbrella Contract:
37.5% UK (232). BAE Systems: Front fuselage including foreplanes, canopy, dorsal spine, tail fin, inboard flaperons, rear fuselage section.
30.0% Germany (180) EADS Deutschland: Main center fuselage. Airbus spinout Premium AEROTEC is the main sub-contractor.
13.0% Spain (87). EADS CASA: Right wing, leading edge slats
The Eurofighter’s 2 EJ200 turbofans deliver 20,000 pounds thrust each in reheat mode, and are manufactured by the EUROJET partnership of Avio (Italy), ITP (Spain), MTU Aero Engines (Germany) and Rolls-Royce (UK).
The Euroradar consortium supplies the ECR-90 CAPTOR radar, and is developing the “E-Scan” AESA successor. It is led by Finmeccanica subsidiary SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems in Edinburgh, UK (formerly BAE Systems Avionics), and also includes EADS and Spain’s Indra.
The Eurofighter contract was designed to protect the fairness of each participants’ agreed manufacturing work shares, by making it very expensive to back out of committed orders. On the other hand, European defense spending continues to decline due to pressure from welfare state commitments and debt burdens, even as European military operational deployments and their costs have increased. Hence the fractious contract negotiations around Tranche 3, and also the investigation of foreign sell-offs by the member countries.
In June 2009, the partners took a diplomatic way out, splitting Tranche 3 into 2 parts. At the end of July 2009, the 4 partner nations placed a EUR 9 billion Tranche 3A order, which will keep production going for several more years. The table below summarizes the Eurofighter’s evolving production plans, from the original 1985 plan to the 1998 agreement, and then planned and actual orders for each production tranche.
Note that 24 of Britain’s Tranche 2 aircraft have been diverted to Saudi Arabia, in order to satisfy Saudi demands for early delivery. In response, Britain ordered 24 more Tranche 3 aircraft as replacements. In practice, this means that Britain has ordered only 16 of its originally planned 88 Tranche 3 Eurofighters – and high-level statements indicate that Tranche 3A agreement absolves Britain of the need to place any further Eurofighter orders. Other reports explain the gap by claiming that the other 48 British Tranche 3 aircraft will go to Saudi Arabia, meaning that all of Saudi Arabia’s 72 planes will have been siphoned off from British orders. This has not been confirmed.
Eurofighter: What Next?
Naval variant, cutaway
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UK Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy has said that he expects the RAF to operate on the basis of a Typhoon fleet of 120 aircraft. By the time the last jets of the 3rd tranche come into service, between 2015 and 2020, the first batch of Tranche 1 Typhoons would be approaching the end of their life.
The status of other countries’ Tranche 3B orders is presently very unclear, and it is possible that Tranche 3A will be the last production order from the original member countries. A 2009 Der Spiegel article illustrates some of the issues in Germany, for instance:
“The German air force didn’t get the first jets until July 2006. It now has 38 Eurofighters. But 14 of them have been sent back for repairs. Some of them still suffer instrument failure during flights. Of the six single-seat aircraft at the Neuburg air base only four are fit for service on average. That’s just enough to provide day and night cover for Germany’s airspace. The defense ministry recently admitted to budget committee members that the approved sum of [EUR] 14.7 billion would only be enough to pay for 143 Eurofighters. Parliament would have to approve an additional [EUR] 3 billion if the air force was to get the planned 180 aircraft…”
In 2011, Eurofighter’s CEO placed the end of production at 2015, barring a major export win like India or Japan, or a Tranche 3B purchase from the consortium partners. Britain has already said that Tranche 3A will be its last, and barring resale deals that bring in extra cash, austerity measures in Germany, Italy and Spain will make a Tranche 3B buy before 2014 or so very tough.
At the same time, the existing fleet offers strong opportunities for piecemeal upgrades, from moves to give Tranche 1 planes precision ground attack capabilities, to helmet-mounted sights, more advanced options like AESA radar retrofits, and even thrust-vectoring engines to create super-maneuverability. Of course, key export order competitors like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-15 Strike Eagle, F-35 Lightning II, JAS-39 Gripen, Rafale, and Russian SU-30MKx/SU-35 already field every one of these capabilities – but none currently field all of them. National budgets will also play a role in the pace of these upgrades, as they have throughout the Eurofighter’s history. What has changed now is the consortium’s seriousness about winning exports, and a dawning understanding that most of these upgrades are now basic requirements, in order to be part of foreign competitions.
That understanding may help, but export wins will be necessary in order to finance the full range of timely improvements. India has been pitched very explicitly along these lines, with offers to have their needs and investments drive the Typhoon’s future enhancements, and significant roles for Indian industry. At Aero India 2011, Eurofighter and BAE even unveiled an initial internally-funded design for a navalized Eurofighter than can operate from aircraft carriers. In a direct nod to potential Indian sales, they tout the plane as being able to take off from “ski jump” carriers without catapults – a design that describes all of India’s current and planned carriers, as well as the initial design for Britain’s own Queen Elizabeth Class. Eurofighter GmbH descirbes the goal as 95% commonality with land-based aircraft, and required changes as “limited… include a new, stronger landing gear, a modified arrestor hook and localised strengthening on some fuselage sections near the landing gear, as well as updates the EJ200 engines,” which could include thrust-vectoring as well as structural reinforcement.
India is currently planning to use MiG-29Ks as its naval fighters, but it’s currently the type’s only customer, and the Typhoon is 1 of 2 finalists in its M-MRCA competition for land based aircraft – alongside the Rafale, for a change. Britain is planning to use the F-35C from its future carrier, but further cost increases or delays for the multinational F-35 program could open an opportunity for a jet type that the RAF already flies.
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At present, the Eurofighter is still alive in export competitions toSwitzerland and India, and is reportedly a strong contender for Japan’s next fighter buy. Japan wants the F-22, but if approval is not granted, the competition would be between Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family, its F-15SE stealth-enhanced “Silent Eagle,” Lockheed Martin’s F-35 family, and the Eurofighter. The other prospects on its radar screen include Oman, which may end up buying some British aircraft; and Greece, which canceled an order for 30-60 Eurofghters in 2005, and bought F-16s instead. Greece still has plans for an additional next-generation fighter buy, to counter Turkey’s planned purchase of 100 F-35As.
Other export opportunities may arise. The Tranche 3A release from Eurofighter cited active campaigns in Switzerland, India, Japan, Romania, Greece, and Turkey, while “exploring possible opportunities” in South Korea, Bulgaria, Croatia, et. al. Eastern European countries would normally be problematic sales due to the Eurofighter’s costs, but Germany is pushing hard, and offering umbrella maintenance agreements and training packages. An August 30/09 Financial Mail article reported that Eurofighter GmbH was hoping for sales of 300 Eurofighter Typhoon to 10 countries by 2020, and since then, reports have surfaced regarding discussions and opportunities in Qatar and even Indonesia.
With that said, the Eurofighter’s cost of $100-140 million each could make for tough sledding against F-35s whose production quantities are likely to create prices in the $80-100 million range, and F/A-18 Super Hornets that can be sold for $70-90 million. Selling 300 aircraft will be challenging – and with existing operators interested in selling some of their aircraft, even an export win or 2 may not change the Eurofighter’s overall production numbers.
Note: This article from www.defenseindustrydaily.com