Warplanes: How Kuwait Will Survive Typhoon

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April 19, 2016: Kuwait has confirmed its purchase of 28 Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters from Italy. Now Kuwait has to deal with the problem of finding and training the 90 or so pilots needed to operate the new aircraft. That will be difficult because Kuwait has a small population (4.2 million) and only 28 percent of them are Kuwaitis. The rest are foreigners hired to do most of the work but not really wanted in the security forces. That explains why some 40 percent of the population is not even Arab. These are mainly South Asians, who are hard workers and less likely than Arabs to have divided loyalties.

Currently the armed forces have 16,000 personnel, not all of them Kuwaitis. There are also 24,000 reservists, a form of military service more popular with Kuwaiti citizens. There is also a paramilitary National Guard of 7,000 troops to maintain order and keep an eye on the military. The air force has 2,500 personnel and 27 F-18Cs, which the Typhoons will eventually replace.

Most of the aircraft maintenance is performed by contractors but the pilots are largely Kuwaiti. Existing pilots will be retrained to operate the Typhoons but that will take time and with retirements and such up to fifty new pilots will have to be recruited and trained. For all small, oil-rich nations it is important that key military personnel are loyal. But with such a small population it is difficult to find qualified citizens for complex tech jobs like flying the Typhoon. This aircraft is considerably more complex than the current F-18Cs. Nations like Kuwait will often offer citizenship (a valuable item in an oil-rich nation) to qualified foreigners. But many of the pilots are selected more for loyalty than skill. The 28 Typhoons will begin arriving in 2019 and all will be in Kuwait by 2022.

Developed and built by a consortium of the largest European defense firms Typhoon was a replacement for the Cold War era Tornado fighter (a contemporary of the Su-27, F-15 and F-16). Development began in the 1980s and first flight was in 1994, after the Cold War unexpectedly ended. This reduced the urgency to get Typhoon into service, which didn’t happen until 2003. At that point many of the main customers (European NATO members) began to have second thoughts. The huge Russian (Soviet Union) air force faded away in the 1990s and there was no new air threat to replace it. By 2007 most customers for Typhoon were cutting their orders in a major way. For example Britain initially planned to buy 232 (Germany was to get 180, Italy 121, and Spain 87.) Britain already had 144 Eurofighters from the first two batches by 2009 and bought few additional aircraft after that. So far 470 Typhoons have been delivered and 129 are on order. In addition to Kuwait the other users are Saudi Arabia, Oman, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain and Austria.

The Typhoon turned out to be a pretty good warplane. This was discovered early on. By 2008 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 the lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases has dimmed sales prospects. Typhoon got into combat in 2011 over Libya and performed well, but the demand from export customers (and local ones) was just not there.

Since it entered service in 2003 Typhoons have flown over 330,000 hours. Each aircraft costs over $120 million, including development costs. Current estimates indicate that over 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 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 purchased by Saudi Arabia Oman and Kuwait mainly to provide protection from Iran But this was not enough to make up for the lost sales in Europe.

Typhoon has since been modified to operate as a fighter-bomber and can carry up to seven tons of weapons. Normally it carries a combination of smart bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks and can stay in the air for two to four hours per sorties depending on the mission. A new AESA radar has been developed for Eurofighter and the Kuwaiti ones will get this as well as a maneuverability upgrade.

 


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