Europe's four Eurofighter partner nations have until the end of the year to agree the production configuration for their 112 Tranche 3A aircraft, being acquired under a €9 billion ($12.9 billion) contract signed on 31 July. The award also covers the supply of 241 Eurojet EJ200 turbofan engines.

Enzo Casolini, chief executive of the Eurofighter industry consortium, says discussions with Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK will focus on the possible introduction of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, and weapons including MBDA's Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.

"By the end of the year we will have a better estimate for the cost of integration" for such equipment, Casolini says. He reveals that three of the nations have approved a study into one AESA radar enhancement, while the UK is staging a separate investigation. The results of both processes will be assessed late this year.

"The technology is mature - it's just a question of making a credible programme," says Casolini, who adds that an active array radar would support possible future export sales of the Typhoon. "Not all of the nations are in the same sort of situation," he says, while calling for "strong, co-ordinated government support".

A decision is needed soon, says Casolini, or else "it will be difficult to do by 2013", when Tranche 3A deliveries will begin. The production phase will deliver 40 aircraft to the UK, 31 to Germany, 21 to Italy and 20 to Spain by 2016.

Casolini says his customers should make a commitment to Tranche 3B production of the Eurofighter during 2011, but notes that "if there is strong support for exports then we could take that into consideration." The UK has already agreed with its partners a reduction of 24 aircraft from its originally 232-strong commitment, in return for brokering the sale of 72 Typhoons to Saudi Arabia. London has now ordered 160 of the aircraft.

Typhoon 3 Sqn - Geoffrey Lee 
© Geoffrey Lee/Planefocus
The UK's new contract boosts its Eurofighter orders to 160 aircraft

In-service and logistics support arrangements for the Tranche 3A aircraft should also be ready for discussion from early 2010, according to Casolini, along with proposals for the standard's wider armaments fit, including the Meteor. "In the last couple of months I have seen more determination to go forward with the programme," he adds. "I believe that this aircraft has to have a weapon system like Meteor."

Other future weapons include MBDA's Brimstone air-to-surface missile, Raytheon Systems' proposed supersonic Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, the MBDA Storm Shadow and Taurus Systems KEPD 350 Taurus cruise missiles, and the US-made Small Diameter Bomb.

Partner companies Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems and EADS have delivered 181 Tranche 1 and 2 Eurofighters, with the type having amassed over 62,000 flight hours in air force use.

Source: Flight International