Murphy's Law: Buying Some Deadly Protection

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October 18, 2017: Qatar is negotiating to buy 24 Typhoon fighters from Britain. Qatar would then join its neighbors (Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) who are already operating this aircraft. This purchase is seen as partly a diplomatic move, to develop closer relationships with Western nations via this expensive purchase while also obtaining another powerful warplane. This is the third such purchase of modern warplanes since 2015, when Qatar ordered 24 Rafale fighters from France for $7.6 billion. In 2016 Qatar ordered 36 American F-15QA fighter-bombers for $12 billion with the option to buy another 36 for $9 billion. The cost of the Typhoons was not mentioned but will probably be about $8 billion. All these aircraft are excellent, but each in a different way

The Rafale design is a further evolution of the Mirage 2000 (from the same manufacturer) and has the Delta Wing configuration common with the Mirage designs but with canards (a small forewing is placed ahead of the main wing) added. Rafale has a maximum speed of 2,450 kilometers an hour and a range of over 3,700 kilometers. It is equipped with a 30mm cannon and can carry nearly ten tons of weapons. Qatar already has a dozen Mirage 2000 fighters and has been expanding its pilot training program since 2012.

The F-15QA is believed to be similar to the 153 F-15SA fighter-bombers Saudi Arabia has been using. The F-15SA is a special models of the F-15, similar to the two-seater F-15E, and unlike the single seat F-15Cs the Saudis already had optimized for ground attack. Israel protested selling the Saudis such advanced bomber technology, but the U.S. worked this out via secret discussions. The Saudi "F-15SA" is similar to the South Korean version of the F-15E, the F-15K. This is a customized version of the 36 ton U.S. F-15E (a two seat fighter bomber version of the single seat, 31 ton F-15C fighter). Already in service for over twenty years, the F-15E can carry up to 11 tons of bombs and missiles, along with a targeting pod and an internal 20mm cannon. The Saudis began receiving the new F-15SAs in 2016.

The F-15E is an all-weather aircraft that can fly one-way up to 3,900 kilometers. It uses in-flight refueling to hit targets anywhere on the planet. For the Saudis this means they can keep these bombers in the air longer, searching for targets. Smart bombs make the F-15E particularly efficient. The second crewman (the backseater) handles the electronics and bombing. The F-15E remains a potent air-superiority fighter, making it an exceptional combat aircraft. This success prompted Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Singapore to buy it, paying about $100 million per aircraft. In the U.S. Air Force the F-15E is one of the most popular aircraft for combat pilots to fly, even more so than the new F-22.

Then there is the Typhoon. 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. 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. So the sale to Qatar was important to the Europeans. 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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