Warplanes: October 1, 2004

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While much attention has been focused on the latest American warplanes, the F-22 and F-35, there are two other advanced fighters on the scene; the Eurofighter, from a consortium of European nations, and the French Rafale.

The Eurofighter was started as a replacement for a number of older aircraft in British, German, Spanish, and Italian service. It is a multi-role aircraft, designed to be difficult to spot on radar (but it is not as stealthy as new U.S. aircraft), with the ability to go past Mach 1 without using afterburners (supercruise). Theoretically, the former allows the aircraft to self-escort, which leads to a smaller strike package and fewer aircrews at risk in a given package, the latter allows the plane to get away faster, and outrun what it cant fight.

The Eurofighter's main air-to-air armament will be the Meteor air-to-air missile. This missile is said to have longer range than the AMRAAM (10-25% more than the AMRAAM's 90 kilometers) which will initially equip the Eurofighter, and will be manufactured by Matra and British Aerospace. Eurofighter is not a true stealth aircraft, particularly when loaded with missiles and bombs the weapons are carried externally. The first aircraft were delivered to the RAF in June 2002, and its expected IOC is 2006.

The French Rafale started after France pulled out of the Eurofighter program in 1985. Like the Eurofighter, it is a low-observable aircraft designed for multiple roles. Unlike the Eurofighter, it has a carrier-capable version (the Rafale M), had the first aircraft delivered in 1998, IOC with the French Navy was in 2001 (the French Air Force gets its first Rafales this year), and its first combat missions occurred over Afghanistan that year. Its primary air-to-air weapon is the Mica air-to-air missile, which has a range of 50 kilometers, and like AMRAAM and Meteor, is a fire-and-forget system.

Which is better? So far, the Rafale is proven in combat (albeit it did not face front-line opposition) and has entered service much faster than its major European rival, the Eurofighter. The Eurofighter promises to carry a wider variety of weapons. It will be capable of carrying both Meteor and AMRAAM, so a buyer who has AMRAAM can stick with it. The Eurofighter will have an edge in export orders based in the larger number of aircraft built for multiple users (to date Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, the UK, and Austria are all slated to buy EF-2000). That said, Rafale is already in service, and it has a track record in the field, which removes many of the unknowns. Eurofighter is faster than Rafale (Mach 2 to Mach 1.8), and has a longer combat radius (1,389 km to 
1,055.64 for the Rafale). Rafale, though, is cheaper ($50 million per copy to $58 million for a Eurofighter). Rafale is equal to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (slightly more weapons capability, but less of a track record and it has shorter range), while the Eurofighter is slightly better (being both faster and with a longer range than the Super Hornet).

However, those two planes will not be competing against the F/A-18E/F. They will most likely be competing with the F/A-22 and F-35 from Lockheed. The F-22 is a dedicated air-superiority fighter with a small ground-attack capability that was added late in the development. But it is fast (speed well over Mach 2, and it has supercruise the ability to 
go over Mach 1 without using afterburners), and it is completely stealthy. Like the F/A-22, the F-35 is also stealthy, and it has a larger pool of buyers than either Eurofighter or Rafale (US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Australia, and Turkey all have provided funds for the JSF program). JSF also is the most versatile a potential buyer can choose a carrier version, a conventional version, or a V/STOL version. In essence, the Rafale and Eurofighter will only have the F/A-22 and F-35 beat in terms of payload, making them the second tier when compared to the American stealth fighters. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)



 


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