THE UK GOVERNMENT has committed "in principle" to the production phase of the Eurofighter EF2000 just weeks before two German Government committees sit to deliberate a critical funding decision for the fighter.

The German budget and defence committees are due to sit later this month to consider the draft budget, which should include production-investment funding for the Eurofighter EF2000.

The German defence ministry, however, is struggling to find funding for all of its procurement projects. Bonn sources indicate that the UK announcement by Michael Portillo, the Minister for Defence, is "aimed at Germany".

The UK is intent on driving through the decision on production investment on the EF2000 by the end of this year. Italy and Spain also have to give their approval. Spain's involvement in the programme was boosted on 31 August, when CASA flew the DA6, the first two-seat EF2000.

The UK funding announcement is viewed by industry as a signal to the German Government that any further slippage of the programme would be unacceptable.

John Weston, British Aerospace Defence chairman, says: "We are delighted with the statements from the defence minister and Michael Heseltine, the deputy prime minister, committing the UK to production investment."

He describes the announcement as a "colossal vote of confidence from the UK Government".

The Royal Air Force would receive its first EF2000 in 2001, more than three years late, under the latest time-scale for the programme. The first squadron would be expected to be combat capable no sooner than 2004-5.

Bonn sources suggest that the UK decision may aid Volker Ruhe, the German defence minister, in his fight for funds for the EF2000.

No specific figure has yet been allocated within the draft defence budget for the EF2000. Several high-profile Franco-German projects are also competing for funding. Bonn sources say that while it is likely that Germany will fund production investment, the final amount could be curtailed.

The impact of such a compromise is unknown.

Other co-operative programmes in Germany, which face budget uncertainty, include the Eurocopter Tiger, the NH Industries NH90, and the proposed Future Large Aircraft.

Source: Flight International