The German air force’s electronic warfare (EW) transition has edged a step closer, after Berlin’s budget committee approved plans to modify 15 Eurofighters into an electronic combat configuration.
Planned to be operational from 2030, the adapted Eurofighter EK – for “elektronischer kampf” – will replace the Luftwaffe’s current 30-strong fleet of Panavia Tornado electronic combat and reconnaissance (ECR) jets.
Modifications to be made by Airbus Defence & Space will include installing a Saab-produced transmitter location system, mounted on the fighter’s wingtips, and arming the type with Northrop Grumman AGM-88E AARGM anti-radiation missiles, for use against air-defence radars.
Saab also will supply jamming and countermeasures equipment for the new variant, which Airbus Defence & Space says will provide 360° protection against radar- and infrared-guided missile threats.
Germany in June 2023 selected Saab to supply its Arexis EW suite for integration with its adapted Eurofighters.
Additional capabilities will include “an AI [artificial intelligence] solution that makes it possible to analyse radar data on-board and quickly determine precise self-protection measures”, Airbus’s defence unit says.
The EK model also will be equipped with an ECRS Mk1 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, to be supplied by Germany’s Hensoldt.
“Electronic warfare and reconnaissance are an important NATO requirement: current conflicts and the present security situation show how important the two capabilities are,” says Airbus Defence & Space chief executive Michael Schoellhorn.
“[Eurofighter] EK will add this important capability to the already broad operational spectrum of the Eurofighter, while strengthening European sovereignty and autonomy,” he adds.
“The Eurofighter EK is to be NATO-certified by 2030 and will then replace the Tornado in the SEAD [suppression of enemy air defences] role,” says Airbus.
Cirium fleets data shows that the Luftwaffe’s Tornado ECR airframes are aged between 31 and 33 years. Berlin has previously identified a 2030 date for the type’s retirement.
A contract for the EK programme activity is due to be signed before the end of this year between the Eurofighter GmbH industry consortium and NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency.
Airbus is, meanwhile, working with the German defence ministry’s BAAINBw procurement office and air force to establish a firm schedule for the EK-version’s introduction to service.
Separately, the UK Royal Air Force also intends to enable its Tranche 3 Eurofighter Typhoons to conduct electronic attack duties. This will involve the use of Leonardo UK’s ECRS Mk2 AESA radar, with operational capability due to be fielded by the end of this decade.