Some things never seem to change in European defence. Another 12 months have passed, and still the production investment (PI) go-ahead for the Eurofighter EF2000 has to be approved by the four nations participating in the programme. Germany once again is at the heart of the delay.
Problems with the Bonn defence budget have left only a hole where EF2000 production investment funding should have been. Germany and its partner nations are now hoping to have cleared off the PI phase of the programme by the end of the first quarter of 1997.
At the political level, EF2000 progress has been shackled by German funding issues, but at a technical level, the project has at long last begun to move ahead. The flight-test programme is returning encouraging results: a badly needed fillip for the project. All the remaining development aircraft should join the flight-test programme in the first and second quarter of the year.
As the EF2000 project rumbles on, there is the possibility of European eyes straying across the Atlantic. With the Joint Strike Fighter project reduced to two teams at the end of 1996 - following the elimination of the McDonnell Douglas (MDC)-led bid - the interest will now focus on emerging foreign interest in the project. Several European Lockheed Martin F-16 users - Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway - are potential candidates, while Australia, Canada and Israel have also expressed interest. Another US project which may attract attention is its embryonic requirement for a replacement interdictor aircraft. This is intended to fill the gap left in the US Air Force's strike inventory when the MDC F-15E and Lockheed Martin F-117 are withdrawn.
In a similar vein, the UK Ministry of Defence will place feasibility contracts with industry in January covering the Future Offensive Air System, intended to lead to a replacement for the Royal Air Force's Panavia Tornado GR4.
This year should also see the fate of the collaborative European Future Large Aircraft finally determined. France appears to be close to finding funding, but Germany now has no cash earmarked for the programme in the near term. The UK, at least at the service level, is growing increasingly concerned that the programme, should it proceed, will not do so at a pace which meets it second-phase Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules replacement needs.
Although the trickle of funding which now passes for Russia's defence budget has failed to keep many development programmes alive, Sukhoi in particular has adapted to "market realities", using export revenues to prime development projects. The prototype Su-30MKI two-seat canard and thrust-vector equipped strike aircraft, on order for India, will be flown in 1997. Senior Sukhoi managers also hope that a variant will eventually supplant the Su-30.
Sukhoi's fighter rival, VPKMAPO, has fared less well in the export market, and therefore has struggled to keep some of its own key projects alive. Its fifth-generation fighter, the Mikoyan Object 1.42, appears moribund, with the Russian air force having neither the inclination nor the funding to finish the programme. VPKMAPO also appears to have cut of funding for the project, instead looking to further "derivatives" of the MiG-29 family in an attempt to secure its position as a fighter manufacturer.
The most intriguing potential debutante in 1997 may be China's Chengdu F-10. The first prototype is reputed to be in the final stages of completion, although given the aircraft's Israel Aircraft Industries Lavi design heritage, China may be loathe to publicise the programme.
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Source: Flight International