June 30, 2009:
Switzerland has been planning to buy 22 Eurofighter aircraft, a deal worth over $2 billion. But now, after a year of negotiations and flight tests, Swiss politicians have told Germany (the principal member of the consortium that produces the aircraft) that the deal won't go through unless there are some concessions on other matters (bank secrecy, taxation and air traffic). Linking defense sales to politics is nothing new, and shouldnt surprise anyone.
A year ago, the Eurofighter came of age, and the Swiss got really interested. At that point there were 135 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, and the aircraft had 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 a lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases, has dimmed sales prospects somewhat. The Eurofighter consortium really cannot afford to lose the Swiss sale.
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.