A series of upgrades and modifications that are due to be integrated into the Eurofighter Typhoon will aid the aircraft to provide the “backbone” of European air power until 2030, a paper from the Royal United Services Institute has argued.
The Maximising European Combat Air Power: Unlocking the Eurofighter’s Full Potential paper notes that while in the “fiercely competitive” fighter export market all manufacturers claim to offer unmatched performance, the limited lifespans of certain types – plus the delay in the future Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that many are acquiring – means that the Typhoon is likely to be in service past 2030.
It says that there is a limited remaining lifespan in European air forces of legacy aircraft such as the Panavia Tornado GR4 and Lockheed Martin F-16A/B.
“[This] coupled with the cost and timescales associated with the F-35 programme, mean that the Eurofighter Typhoon, along with the French [Dassault] Rafale, will by necessity provide the backbone of Europe’s combat air power for at least a decade from 2020,” it notes. “With sensor, weapon and network upgrades scheduled for integration, the Eurofighter could remain combat effective in most likely operational scenarios beyond 2030.”
The Royal Air Force and Italian air force are due to retire their Tornados by 2019 and 2020, while the German air force will start to transfer the interdiction role from Tornado to Typhoon post 2016, leading to the Eurofighter providing this “backbone” of frontline air power to four of the most powerful air forces – the RAF, German, Italian and Spanish air forces.
These services will have to rely on the Eurofighter for the core of their combat power until at least 2030 until the F-35 is fully implemented, while Germany, which does not currently intend to purchase the F-35, will have to rely on the Typhoon beyond the Tornado, the paper says.
“Therefore, it is important to work out how to get the most out of this extremely capable platform in a future operating environment in which the US may increasingly see fifth-generation aircraft as theatre-entry standard,” it adds.
While the paper notes that the Rafale is currently more mature because it has an operational active electronically scanned array radar and can be used to help deliver an array of weaponry, it says that the Typhoon is “yet to reach its full potential”.
“Given the performance of the basic airframe – and the significant capabilities on contract for operational deployment by 2020 – that potential should surpass that of the Rafale in many respects,” it notes.