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Sweden pressed over funding next phase of X-31 programme

Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Germany and the USA are pressing Sweden to decide on whether it will fund its share of the planned second phase of the tri-national X-31 experimental aircraft programme.

Spain, meanwhile, is interested in joining the project to provide Spanish engine manufacturer ITP with a platform to carry out flight testing of its thrust vectoring nozzle, recently ground-tested on a Eurojet EJ200.

Defence budget cuts have thrown Sweden's role in the thrust-vectoring, extremely short take-off and landing, tailless operations research (VECTOR)programme into doubt, with no money allocated in current spending plans. Swedish industry, led by Saab and Volvo Aero, is supposed to take responsibility for adapting General Electric's axisymmetric vectoring exhaust nozzle (AVEN) for use on the X-31 testbed.

If Sweden drops out of VECTOR, the USA and Germany are expected to push ahead with a bilateral programme, with the aircraft retaining the vectoring "paddles" used in the first phase of the X-31 project. This could clear the way for Spain to join later.

The X-31 has a GE F404 powerplant, but Spanish industry sources say the ITP nozzle could be adapted to fit this engine. ITP, a partner in Eurojet along with its 46.6% shareholder Rolls-Royce, plans to offer its nozzle for the Eurofighter Typhoon and a possible EJ200-powered export version of the Saab/British Aerospace Gripen.

This could put the Spanish company in conflict with GE, which, although not a formal participant in VECTOR, also plans to adapt its AVEN nozzle for the Gripen.

The German and US Governments signed a memorandum of understanding in June to launch VECTOR (Flight International, 23-29 June). The X-31 testbed has been in storage for four years, but is being restored to an airworthy condition. Flight tests are expected to resume early next year.

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