Partners put UK under pressure to meet commitment

The four-nation Eurofighter consortium has set a November target date to sign a contract for the Tranche 2 production of 236 aircraft for Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, with Britain coming under renewed pressure to meet its commitment to the programme.

German defence minister Peter Struck has urged his UK counterpart, Geoff Hoon, to complete talks with Eurofighter partner company BAE Systems no later than 15 October. Eurofighter officials say it will then take two to six weeks for the UK's three partner nations to review and approve its agreement ahead of a Tranche 2 signature. "We are closing on an agreement with the Ministry of Defence and there is no logical reason why we can't meet a November timeline," says BAE's Typhoon managing director Chris Boardman.

Europe's collaborative fighter aircraft project has faltered over recent months because of delayed negotiations to sign a Supplement 3 contract for Tranche 2 production, originally planned for conclusion late last year. Eyeing a costly gap in manufacturing activities caused by the contract delay, the Eurofighter partner companies are already slowing work rates.

"By mid-year we had stretched the production as far as possible, but we now do have cracks in the line," says Eurofighter project management director Brian Phillipson. Production of some single parts has already been completed for Tranche 1, and industry is working on major parts for the 141st of 148 aircraft. Some suppliers have already scaled back short-term working and halted overtime, and some major production machines could be turned to work on other aerospace projects for Airbus, Embraer or Saab, says Eurofighter. The company is also still awaiting payments from the partner nations for some work conducted as part of its Tranche 1 activities.

Phillipson says industry is "carrying a significant burden on the earlier contracts", and warns it will not do the same during the more than €10 billion ($12.4 billion) Tranche 2 phase. However, he adds: "We have increased confidence that we will see Supplement 3 and Tranche 1 change contracts in place by year-end."

Securing the delayed Tranche 2 award is "fundamental to the export potential of the weapon system", says Eurofighter chief executive Aloysius Rauen. The Typhoon is on a shortlist of three aircraft to meet a Singapore air force requirement, and with a platform selection expected from early 2005, company officials say the Tranche 2 contract must be signed by year-end.



Source: Flight International