French officials at the 1997 Le Bourget air show enjoyed watching the Eurofighter EF2000 flying display rather more than the aircraft's manufacturers would have liked.
Dassault had presented spectacular displays from its Mirage 2000-5 and Rafale fighters and, by comparison, the EF2000 - in the middle of flight testing, with its performance envelope still limited - seemed tame. Eurofighter managing director Brian Phillipson believes that the tables will turn at this year's shows, but wishes that he did not have to care.
"I don't like air shows. Iused to run the Harrier programme in British Aerospace and I used to get annoyed about the aircraft nodding and bowing to the crowd: people used to focus on that and forget that the Harrier is an extremely potent combat aeroplane. Air shows, particularly at this stage of the [EF2000] development programme, are a big distraction for me," says Phillipson. He would rather get potential customers flying his product, instead of taking precious development aircraft out of flight testing to put on "some sexy show for the crowds".
Still, the EF2000 promises an impressive performance at the forthcoming Berlin air show, since, by then, the aircraft should have full alpha/G clearance. This will give Phillipson's crew and German-built development aircraft DA5 the chance to prove his bullish claim that the EF2000 is "the most agile aircraft in the world", with the "highest sustained and instantaneous turn rate".
Regardless of Phillipson's lack of enthusiasm for air shows, if the EF2000 impresses the public and press at Berlin, the show could generate some rare and valuable positive coverage in the frequently hostile German media. "There is now a very real understanding of the programme in a large part of the political decision making community. There isn't that understanding in the broader community," says Phillipson.
Especially in the German press, the EF2000 has been labelled unnecessary and overpriced at a time of severe budgetary cutbacks, and some papers have suggested that it is no better than an upgraded MAPO MIG MiG-29. The press coverage in 1997 led senior Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa)officials to hint darkly at an anti-Eurofighter propaganda campaign run by unnamed (but fairly obvious) competitors.
The industrial partners could be forgiven for having seemed touchy about the publicity in 1997, since they spent most of the year pressing media-sensitive Bonn politicians to clear DM23 billion ($14.3 billion) for German EF2000 procurement. This much delayed decision had to come before the production investment (PI)and production memoranda of understanding were finally signed on 22 December.
In the meantime, the industrial partners funded their own PI work, with Dasa- which was spending as much as DM1 million a day on this - eventually threatening to pull out unless Bonn gave a clear commitment to the project.
With the political brouhaha settled for the moment, Eurofighter and engine manufacturer Eurojet signed nine production and support contracts for the total 620-aircraft programme (plus 90 options) with NETMA on 30 January. The contracts were valued at over DM55 billion, but their terms are draconian. The production and support contract terms include fixed prices and severe penalties for failure to meet performance specifications or deadlines. The contracts are interlinked, so, if one supplier fails, all the partners pay.
"The nations are under extreme pressure from audit offices, parliaments and the like to have really tight contracts with industry. This is a commitment for 30 years to come, and we have had to accept that, if we want this amount of business, we will have to take it on terms and conditions we have not been used to," Phillipson explains. Eurofighter has therefore been running a production readiness review since the second quarter of 1997 to ensure that management and production processes will be up to the job required of them.
This review should be over in April, clearing the way for authorisation for production of the first tranche of 148 aircraft, which Phillipson expects in about August. The first production aircraft is to be delivered to the Royal Air Force in June 2002, with deliveries to the remaining three nations within three months of this.
Pre-delivery flight trials of the aircraft will begin almost a year before delivery, while five intermediate production aircraft built for testing by the industry will begin flying in 2000, says Phillipson. All four Eurofighter lines will have begun deliveries by the end of 2002, he adds. When the aircraft enters service, Phillipson claims the air forces will receive an "unparallelled air defence capability".
The first EF2000s produced will be built to initial operational capability (IOC) standards. Final operational capability (FOC) should be achieved after 50 aircraft have been produced. No official date has yet been released for FOC, but this will come "very early in the decade".
"I'm sick and tired of people telling me it's 90% of a [Lockheed Martin] F-22 at half the price, because that's rubbish. The Eurofighter has features the F-22 hasn't got, and we'll play second fiddle to nobody, "Phillipson stresses. The Raptor comparison comes from independent studies examining the EF2000, F-22, Boeing F-15F, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18E and Lockheed Martin F-16C against the Sukhoi Su-35 in beyond visual range encounters. The F-22 is found to have a 91% chance of winning such an encounter, with the EF2000 coming second at 82%. The F-15F achieves the next best score, with a 60% win probability.
The F-22 comparison is based on medium range one to one combat, says Phillipson. "Under those circumstances, there are certain features of the F-22, particularly in the area of [radar] signature management which would give it an advantage," he says.
The F-22 has no infra-red search and track sensor (IRST) at present. The EF2000 IRST, claims Phillipson, can "detect extremely small temperature differences at extremely long ranges, and we can fire a missile based on our IRST data". This allows the EF2000 to launch an attack while keeping its radar silent.
Phillipson says that a "total signature management" strategy has been adopted , including electronic emissions and infra-red. Datalinking and the IRST allows targets to be tracked at long range without revealing its own position with radar emissions. As for radar reflections, the fin will reflect strongly from the side, but he says that stealth is required primarily from the front.
"In the nose of a fighter, you can only put a certain size of radar operating in certain wavebands, and in those wavebands you can manage the reflections," he says. Large flat surfaces and corners should be eliminated as far as possible, radar absorbent materials can be used, and radar reflections can also be managed by measures taken beneath aircraft surfaces. According to Phillipson, "the Eurofighter has been extensively treated at the front end". It is known that DA5 has been used as a testbed for radar absorbent materials, but this is highly classified and Phillipson declines to reveal further details.
In close combat, the aircraft is highly agile and will have the advantage of (eventually) being armed with Matra BAe Dynamics ASRAAMs or BGT IRIS-T missiles, which can be aimed with the pilot's helmet mounted sight and offer more than 90º off-boresight capability. This means practically that the pilot can aim and fire a missile over his shoulder. Some have suggested that this makes the idea of fitting thrust vectoring to a later EF2000 variant redundant, but vectored thrust advocates such as Dasa Military Aircraft president Aloysius Rauen counter that this ignores the short take-off and landing benefits of vectored thrust, as well as the weight and stealth advantages of potentially being able to remove the large fin from the airframe.
By the time it flies at Berlin, DA5 will be fitted with the current release of digital flight control system (DFCS)software, FCS 2A. This has been tested thoroughly during "carefree handling" trials on UK-based DA2, which ended in January, and allows the aircraft its full flight envelope for relatively clean air to air configurations, carrying up to six missiles.
"The Eurofighter [DFCS] is designed to keep you in the optimum performance regime. You can overshoot it if you need to, but it will not allow you to go to the point where you lose control of the aeroplane," explains Phillipson. The trials were conducted with an anti-spin gantry fitted, and repeated with the gantry removed.
The next DFCS software release, FCS2B, will introduce features such as the autopilot, and will extend carefree handling to the full range of aircraft stores configurations. After testing, the final version will be cleaned up, renamed FCS 3 and fitted in the IOC aircraft.
Since completing this phase of carefree handling trials, DA2 has turned to testing the aircraft's extensive defensive aids subsystem, and has completed the first trials with a towed missile decoy at supersonic speed. The same aircraft achieved the development target of Mach 2 in envelope expansion trials on 23 December.
The EF2000 is expected to be formally named in early March, with "Typhoon" unofficially tipped as the most likely choice. A shortlist has been drafted and checked for its appropriateness in all major languages. Now all that remains is a legal problem. Eurofighter wants to avoid the situation of car maker Mercedes-Benz, which recently had to pay millions for the right to use its "C-Class" designation.