I’d been planning to prompt some discussion on The DEW Line earlier in the week about the Eurofighter programme, to coincide with a feature article of mine which appeared as the cover story for the latest issue of Flight International, but a four-day trip to Sweden means it’s now a Friday Fighter topic instead.
Our UK-focused look into the programme included interviewing the RAF’s Typhoon force commander and visiting the service’s Coningsby main operating base for the type. I also got the latest on the production and flight-test situation, from visiting BAE Systems’ Warton site. The feature was, however, finished before Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders cast a rather gloomy forecast on the type’s future export prospects, after Germany confirmed what everyone already knew some time ago: that a Tranche 3B production deal for the nation, plus Italy, Spain and the UK will not be happening.
After tasting disappointment in nations including India and the United Arab Emirates, the need to score fresh export sales is great, and the UK and BAE are leading the way. But can they succeed in current campaigns in Bahrain, Malaysia and Qatar, and also in adding to a 72-aircraft deal with Saudi Arabia?
Typhoon (Crown Copyright image above) is clearly a fine combat aircraft, but 20 years after its first development example was flown, the phrase “potential” still crops up too often. The Tranche 3A jets now starting to roll off the production lines are, for example, being produced for, but not with, an active electronically scanned array radar, as a production order for that sensor has still yet to be signed. Other key enhancements – such as the addition of the Meteor air-to-air and Storm Shadow cruise missile – are also progressing, but at a frustratingly measured pace.
But as we report, there are some positives to grasp. Any further export success should push production on beyond an expected 2018 end, and also lift international sales into three figures: 99 have been sold to date, to Austria, Oman and Saudi Arabia. And a combined industry and military effort to reduce costs through enhanced support arrangements and some innovative training methods are delivering benefits too. Notably, an RAF-led trial dubbed “Pandora’s Buzzard” has seen several ab initio pilots go solo in the Typhoon with zero prior live flying in the type. While that’s probably a real trend for the future only, the service’s 29 Sqn operational conversion unit is already delivering its syllabus with a 35% to 65% balance between live and synthetic training.
You can read all about the programme by logging on or registering for free to read the feature over on our FG Club, or by getting your hands on the 11-17 March issue of Flight International: either on the newsstand, or via our iPad app.