Murphy's Law: Why Eurofighter Gets No Respect


March 7, 2011: Faced with more large cuts in its budget, Britain's Royal Air Force fears the worst. Over a decade of cutting corners because of similar economy moves is catching up with RAF. For example, a recent government investigation revealed that a lack of spare parts for the new Eurofighter limited the amount of time pilots could spend in the air. This, in turn, led to only eight pilots being certified as qualified to perform ground attack duties in the Eurofighter. While the Eurofighter is mainly an air-superiority ("fighter") aircraft, there is very little call for that sort of thing at the moment. Ground attack, on the other hand, is very much in demand. The RAF currently has 62 Eurofighters, an aircraft that will replace about 120 remaining Tornados.

Two years ago, Germany and Britain decided to cut 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.

Also in 2009, 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 it 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 on order from the first two batches, and will end up with 184. There are currently 260 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, four years after it first entered service.

Development of the Eurofighter began in the 1980s, 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.

But some users, like Britain and Germany, see no urgent demand for the new Eurofighter. So when it comes time to make budget cuts, spare parts for the Eurofighter, and fuel to get pilots in the air for training, are among the first things to go.



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