The troubled Eurofighter EF2000 programme has moved a step closer to production, but one more major hurdle in the German parliament in September still has to be negotiated before a go-ahead is finally obtained.

The German cabinet has cleared a 1998 budget plan, including about DM850 million ($500 million) funding for the EF2000 during its last pre-summer-break, sitting on 11 July. The scheme must next be approved by parliament when it returns from its break in early September.

Industry and political officials fear that the parliamentary approval process may be lengthy. The EF2000 programme is vehemently opposed by the ex-Communist PDS, the Bündnis 90/Green alliance and about two-thirds of the social-democratic SPD, although the majority of the ruling coalition-party members - representing just over 50% of parliament - support the project.

Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa), a Eurofighter industrial partner, says that Germany could sign the EF2000 production memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Italy, Spain and the UK within four weeks of a parliamentary go-ahead - this will certainly be no earlier than October. The MoU would then be followed by a production contract from the NATO management agency NETMA.

The cabinet funding approval for the project comes despite the fact that negotiations between Dasa and German finance minister Theo Waigel about early repayments of Government cash used to support Airbus programmes - which were to be used to support the overloaded defence budget - have still to reach a conclusion.

"The negotiations between the finance minister and Dasa are still running, but we have made provisions that, irrespective of the result of these negotiations, we will find financing for the Eurofighter in the 1998 budget and in the following years of mid-term financial planning up to the year 2001," says defence minister Volker Rühe. Essentially, this means that the Eurofighter programme is being funded in the coming year solely from a slightly reduced defence budget of DM46.675 billion - Rühe had hoped for DM46.9 million, as well as nearly DM250 million from the Airbus repayments.

Dasa confirms that the Airbus repayments were separated from the Eurofighter funding issue to allow the cabinet to clear the budget in time. "Both sides realised that it [the Airbus repayments are] is a complex topic, and it would not be appropriate to make a decision under time pressure," says Dasa.

In 1999, the defence ministry plans to allocate DM1.2 billion to the EF2000, followed by DM1.35 billion in 2000 and DM1.6 billion in 2001. Funding for the coming year has been found by cutting and delaying other defence projects.

The UK was expecting to receive the first production aircraft of an initial batch of 55 (15 of them two-seaters) in December 2000, and it is trying to minimise any further delay to this date.

The first operational conversion unit should be fully established by the year 2003.

Source: Flight International