Leadership: The Luftwaffe Steps Back


November 22, 2009: Germany is joining Britain and cutting back on the number of Eurofighters they will buy. Thus the final 37 Eurofighters Germany agreed to buy for its Luftwaffe (air force), will instead be offered for export. Germany would have preferred to just cancel the final 37 aircraft, but this would have resulted in over a billion dollars in cancellation fees. But the export option will hurt the Eurofighter project, as Germany will sell their 37 aircraft for whatever they can get, thus denying the Eurofighter consortium export sales.

Earlier this year, Britain decided to not take all of its third batch (or "tranche", as they like to call it in Europe) of 88 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters. This will cost Britain $2 billion in increased maintenance costs and penalties. Britain will take 40 of the fighters from the third batch, and resell another 24 to Saudi Arabia. In effect, Britain is pulling out of the Eurofighter program, and cancelling 16 of the aircraft if was to have received from the third batch. The British government believes that 184 Eurofighters will be sufficient, and that it cannot afford any more than that.

Originally, Britain planned to buy 232 (Germany was to get 180, Italy 121, and Spain 87.) Britain already has 144 Eurofighters from the first two batches, and will end up with 184. A year ago, there were 135 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, and they aircraft have been in the air for a combined 35,000 hours (as of the end of 2007.) Half those hours were flown in 2007, as the Eurofighter entered regular service in several nations. About 20 percent of those flight hours were for flight testing, but the rest were for day-to-day operations. The future looked bright. But since then, competition from American and Russian fighters, for export sales, and lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases, has dimmed sales prospects.

Development of the Eurofighter began two decades ago, and the first flight took place in 1994. Each aircraft costs over $120 million, including development costs. Current estimates indicate that about 600 will eventually be built. The Typhoon is a somewhat stealthy multi-role fighter. It is fast, maneuverable, and carries a lot of weapons. It also can be used for attack missions. This 23 ton aircraft will be the principal fighter in the air forces of Britain, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The Typhoon is closer in capability to the F-15, than the F-22, and is competing with the F-35 for many export sales. The Typhoon was recently purchased by Saudi Arabia, mainly to provide protection from Iran.


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