Alan Dron

The long-term future in the fighter/attack aircraft market belongs to the United States, providing the Joint Strike Fighter project (JSF) goes ahead, predicts a report issued at Asian Aerospace today.

Europe's military aircraft manufacturers will enjoy an upturn over the coming decade, but if the JSF proceeds, the US will eventually dominate the world's marketplaces. Only if JSF is scrapped or significantly delayed will the balance tip toward European manufacturers, predicts Richard Aboulafia, lead analyst for the Teal Group's World Military and Civil Aircraft Briefing.

The best hope for Europe's manufacturers is to join forces - either with each other, or with US partners.

The Halifax, Virginia-based Teal Group says the fighter/attack market - in decline since the end of the Cold War - will start to grow again, but only after another lean year in 2001. Even with growth, the world fighter/attack market, at around 300 units delivered annually from 2004 to the end of the decade, will be less than half that at the start of the 1990s. And even that is based on the premise that the procurement holiday taken by European and (to a lesser extent) US governments ends.

The report predicts production of 2,932 aircraft worth $136 billion (in Year 2000 dollars) between 2000-2009. This compares with 4,445 aircraft, worth $152.5 billion (also in Year 2000 dollars) built between 1990-1999.

The big loser, in terms of market share, will be Boeing as its McDonnell legacy programmes end, says Aboulafia. He predicts its share of the fighter market will drop from 40% in 1999 to just 16% in 2009. That situation could change substantially, however, if the F-15 Eagle wins South Korea's F-X contest, which could ultimately account for as many as 130 aircraft.

One potential market opening is for a lighter fighter than those currently available, says the report.

The current shortage of inexpensive fighter designs means either that the entire market moves upwards, with air arms buying smaller numbers of costly machines, or a return to the 'high/low mix' theory to keep up force numbers.

If Saab and BAE Systems could reduce the price tag of the JAS-39 Gripen, it might fill the low end of such a mix. Otherwise, the new supersonic trainer/light fighter designs - Lockheed/Samsung's KTX-2 and Dasa's Mako - could benefit, if their manufacturers could keep their price tags to around $21 million a copy.

Much of Aboulafia's report pivots around the JSF. Right now, he says "...the JSF sounds slightly impractical. A plane with a 56,000lb MTOW and a $28-million price tag is difficult to imagine. But if it succeeds, JSF may do to Europe's defence industry what the F-16 almost did: kill it."

European manufacturers are starting to cooperate on projects; Dassault has agreed to link with BAE Systems to study new combat aircraft, with an eye to the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS). Even without FOAS, European manufacturers could still join forces, "...perhaps even with American companies, perhaps even the losing JSF designer. This could create a JSF alternative.

"In an ideal world, there would be a US-based JSF, with significant US content, plus a Europe-based fifth-generation fighter, with significant US content. Fighter acquisition would be based on aircraft technical merits, not local content.

"However, in the fighter market, ideal worlds are unlikely outcomes.

"When your analyst ...does his Fighter Market update for 2015, he'll have a very easy job. He will merely list all the countries looking to buy fighters. Then he will describe how many JSFs they'll buy and when they'll buy them.

"The danger to European industry, and any US companies not closely linked to the winning JSF design, is real and great."

Source: Flight Daily News