Eurofighter Typhoon special: Building momentum

Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

The Change Proposal 210 upgrade comes at a vital time for the Eurofighter programme

The Eurofighter programme received a significant boost late last month, with the signature of an initial upgrade package for the 236 aircraft to be built during the Typhoon's Tranche 2 production phase (Flight International, 3-9 April). Delayed by several months due to the varying pace of approvals processes across the four partner nations, the vital development came at the end of what Eurofighter programme director Brian Phillipson concedes was "a very difficult 18 months to two years".

Work package

Worth €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion), the Change Proposal 210 deal will integrate enhanced communications, targeting and weapon systems for Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, including the air-to-surface stores that will turn the Typhoon from an air-superiority fighter into a multi-role strike aircraft. It will also enhance the aircraft's man-machine interface to enable the pilot to simultaneously conduct ground-attack and air-to-air tasks. The new work package comes at a vital time for the multinational programme, with activities under its 1988 main development contract scheduled to conclude before year-end.

 
© Geoff Lee / Eurofighter   
Eurofighter is vital to sustaining activities at sites including BAE's Warton plant

A second package of Future Capability Programme (FCP) enhancements is planned in 2012 or 2014 to add the MBDA Storm Shadow and Taurus KEPD350 cruise missiles, Raytheon AIM-120C7 AMRAAM and potentially MBDA's Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. "The customers must make a decision within the next 12 months if they want to do Meteor in 2012," says Phillipson. Eurofighter will submit a formal proposal for the work in the latter half of this year.

The Eurofighter project is the largest collaborative defence programme ever undertaken in Europe, and will at peak production be responsible for the employment of around 100,000 people at partner companies Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, EADS and EADS Casa, plus more than 400 equipment suppliers.

The partner companies had by late last month delivered 116 of the 148 Typhoons contracted under a Tranche 1 production deal signed in 1998, with their national air forces having now amassed over 16,300 flight hours with the aircraft, in addition to the more than 5,000h flown using industry-operated development aircraft. EADS Casa last month delivered Spain's first aircraft in the final production standard of the Tranche 1 programme. Designated Block 5, this will enable the partners to use laser-guided bombs and the aircraft's Mauser 27mm cannon.

The Eurojet Turbo consortium comprising Avio, ITP, MTU and Rolls-Royce last December completed deliveries of the 363 EJ200 engines covered by the Tranche 1 deal, from a total of at least 1,400 to be produced across the life of the programme. To be delivered from this year, Tranche 2 production engines will bring "significant benefits in terms of cost, mass and reliability", Eurojet says.

Computer architecture

EADS will fly the first Tranche 2 Eurofighter - a Block 8 configuration that introduces new computer architecture but retains old software - later this year, with deliveries to the air forces to commence from mid-2008. "We're building them like fury and could deliver from the first half of next year," says Phillipson.

With the first phase of FCP work now under contract to cover Typhoon's continued development over the next five years, Eurofighter is now turning its attention to agreeing a Tranche 3 order with the partner nations to take the programme up to its core production total of 620 aircraft.

Eurofighter must sign a Tranche 3 deal with the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency by early 2009 if it is to ensure first deliveries to Spain in 2012, and is now simultaneously preparing a request for quotations and a production proposal. "We will float a shopping list and try to sell as much capability as possible," Phillipson says. A key option will be an active electronically scanned array for the aircraft's Euroradar Captor radar, with a Caesar demonstrator sensor poised to fly in EADS's DA5 development aircraft. The radar has been developed by EADS Defence Electronics, Galileo Avionica, Indra and Selex Sensors & Airborne Systems.

A range enhancement in the guise of conformal fuel tanks is also likely to be proposed, and Phillipson says other "visually appealing" modifications will undergo flight test ahead of a production decision. "We also need to redesign the software and rewrite the whole avionics suite to take advantage of new technologies," he says.

There is now consensus among the industry partners that the support model for Eurofighter must also be updated as part of Tranche 3 production. "The support programme was set up in the 1980s and is a complex arrangement which is difficult to manage," says Phillipson. "It is now entirely appropriate and necessary to address this to meet the needs of the air forces."

But having suffered a costly delay during the negotiation of its Tranche 2 deal signed in December 2004, how easy will it be to reach a multinational agreement on the project's remaining production order? This process has been described by one senior industry official as a mix of "herding cats" and "aligning the planets". The UK has been particularly vociferous in its demand for programme improvements, with minister for defence equipment and support Lord Drayson earlier this year requesting "greater empowerment of Eurofighter, risk sharing across the four Eurofighter partner companies and incentivised performance objectives".

Fundamental changes

The Typhoon programme accounts for over 20% of the UK's current annual procurement spend, and opponents have called for the nation's Tranche 3 commitment - which will take to 232 the total number of aircraft bought - to be scrapped. While this appears an unlikely course of action, a former senior official from the UK defence community told Flight International: "I can't see the UK going ahead unless there are fundamental changes." London should refuse to sign the deal until all programme partners have agreed a commercially enforceable arrangement, the source says, adding: "It's a case of persuading the other nations to come with us."

In a sign of progress, the partner nations have formed a so-called Typhoon Tiger Team tasked with establishing long-term requirements and improved planning. "The relationship is getting better, because people are prepared to have that sort of conversation," says Chris Boardman, Typhoon managing director for BAE Systems. "The programme suffered for a few years while everybody was talking about what we were doing next week and next month," he says.

"When you get to Tranche 3, the sensible thing would be to have a 20-year view and make sure you maximise your investment in the hardware within the programme. You either have the capability from day one, or put in the enablers that allow you to exploit the capability over its life," he says.

Boardman believes the four partner nations will honour their Tranche 3 commitments on industrial and requirement grounds, despite budgetary pressures. "It would be very hard, if not impossible, to put FCP on a Tranche 1 aircraft, and I don't think nations can survive on a Tranche 2 fleet only," he says. "You will probably find a lot of commonality on some of the major requirements, but it comes down to what nations are prepared to invest." However, he cautions, "if people want to deviate from the plan then it is painful. There is a big problem for any nation that tries to break away."

The success of the Tranche 3 negotiations could have a significant impact on efforts to sell the Typhoon to potential customers including Denmark, Greece, India, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, with Singapore having eliminated the type from contention when uncertainty surrounded the earlier Tranche 2 deal. Early progress could enable the partner companies to capitalise on production delays and cost increases on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, or to encourage Japan to reduce its reliance on US suppliers.

Eurofighter has already attracted buyers for 90 Typhoons above its umbrella four-nation contract for 620 aircraft, but the two deals are mired in ongoing controversy.

The Austrian government has studied the possible cancellation of a €2 billion deal for 18 Typhoon interceptors signed by the nation's previous administration, although its air force's first Tranche 1, Block 5 example flew for the first time last month. Faced with a potential cancellation fee of around €1.2 billion, it seems doubtful that Vienna will scrap the deal, but air force chief Maj Gen Erich Wolf was earlier this month suspended from duty over his involvement in the type's selection.

Saudi Arabia is expected to sign an order with the UK government for 72 Tranche 2 Typhoons around mid-year, following the abandonment of an investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office into alleged accounting irregularities by BAE during earlier Al Yamamah arms deals (Flight International, 13-19 February). The company, which has always denied any wrong doing, will be responsible for delivering Riyadh's first 24 Typhoons from its final assembly line at Warton in Lancashire.