ILA 2008: Typhoon progress slowed by technical problems and overstretch

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Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoon may be delivering the power in the military flying displays at ILA this week, but behind the scenes the aircraft’s two largest customers are facing problems – largely of their own making.

Although the order book is brimming, with 707 aircraft ‘on contract’, and the production programme is proceeding smoothly (with all Tranche 1 aircraft now delivered), there is growing concern over availability.

In Germany, the second Eurofighter wing, Jagdgeschwader 74 at Neuberg, has been undertaking QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duties since January, and the Wing will discard the last of its F-4 Phantoms next month.

But Luftwaffe sources suggest that problems (including recent issues with a Luftwaffe-specific item of equipment) have led to poor availability.

They report that the flying rate at Neuberg has been significantly lower than planned, and the Luftwaffe, with 28% of the Tranche 1 aircraft, has flown only 20% of the 35,000 flying hours amassed so far by the partner air forces and launch export customer Austria.

german eurofighter


 
The problems are understood to be a consequence of the Luftwaffe’s decision to introduce the Typhoon into service without the kind of ‘Case White’ partnered support and training arrangements with industry used in the UK, ensured that by the time aircraft were delivered to RAF flying stations, more teething troubles had been resolved, and higher levels of maturity and experience had been achieved.

Meanwhile, the British Typhoon force is facing its own problems. Plans to deploy the aircraft to Afghanistan in July, when FOC (Full Operational Clearance) is declared are believed to have been abandoned.

Development of the so-called ‘austere air to ground capability’ has progressed well, and the RAF have dropped enhanced Paveway GPS/laser-guided bombs, and sticks of ‘dumb’ 1,000-lb bombs, as well as carrying out ‘strafe’ (air-to-ground firing using the built-in 27-mm cannon), though there have been suggestions that there have been delays in integrating the Litening 3 laser designation pod.

But while RAF sources remain bullish that the aircraft will have the air-to-ground capabilities it would require for an Afghan deployment the likelihood of demonstrating that capability has become progressively smaller.

With just two frontline squadrons operational and a shrinking Tornado F.Mk 3 fighter force, maintaining the RAF’s existing fighter commitments is becoming problematic.

With increased activity from Russian bombers, maintaining aircraft on QRA is a major burden, while the Tornados now guarding the Falkland Islands will soon need replacing (October 2008). Many believe that the RAF simply can’t spare a frontline Typhoon squadron for an extended overseas commitment, though others expect that a much smaller, brief deployment might still be made to demonstrate the capability.

Certainly industry want and need Typhoon to be showing its mettle as an air to ground platform to support ongoing export campaigns, but their needs are secondary insofar as the RAF is concerned.


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