FR0812-Eurofighter Tranche 2+3Eurofighter: Signature for Tranche 3 gets urgent
Once again the Royal Air Force is leading the way: on 10 October it accepted its first Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from the second production batch at BAE Systems' Warton plant. The single-seater BS040 and another aircraft were later ferried to RAF Coningsby, where the Royal Air Force's Typhoon fleet is based.
By Karl Schwarz
Now that the weapon system has received its international Type Acceptance, granted by the NATO Eurofighter und Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) at the beginning of September, deliveries to the other countries should get under way as well. At any rate the German Defence Ministry was expecting national Type Acceptance for October. Three Tranche 2 Eurofighters are expected to be delivered to the Luftwaffe before the end of this year. This is a few months behind the original schedule, but the military are hoping that the "backlog" caused by the delayed Type Acceptance can be largely caught up over the coming year.
The new Block 8 standard Eurofighters are initially required to bring the first operational unit in Neuburg up to strength, as Fighter Wing 74 is currently having to make do with only ten aircraft. This is due partly to the fact that several Tranche 1 aircraft were relinquished by the Luftwaffe to Austria and partly to ongoing upgrade measures to the Block 5 standard. With 16 trained pilots, FW74 is just able to fulfil the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) role of protecting the airspace over the south of Germany, which it officially took on in June.
When one considers that the average aircraft availability rate is only 50 percent (this is claimed to be better than other Luftwaffe types), this means that no more than half a dozen Eurofighters are available for flying operations on a daily basis. According to wing commodore Wing Commander Andreas Pfeiffer, four of these are required for the QRA service (two plus two reserves), so that only two are available for other duties. This rules out intensive training in aerial combat, as Pfeiffer lamented during a visit by FLUG REVUE at the beginning of October. Despite this, the QRA aircraft take off twice a day on exercise flights even without being alerted.
It will therefore take some time before FW 74 is able to exploit the full potential of the Eurofighter. Despite the overstretched situation, it is planned that FW 74 will participate in international exercises for the first time in 2009. Informally, the pilots from Neuburg recently pitted their skills against their French Rafale colleagues in aerial combat. The results were extremely gratifying, the main difference being the much greater thrust of the EJ200 engine. As far as the pilots are concerned, moreover, the Block 5 standard has brought clear improvements compared with earlier versions of the software. Areas which were previously problematic, such as voice input of commands, now function a lot more reliably.
According to the Luftwaffe's broader plans, Fighter Wing 74 will initially be raised to a strength of 24 Eurofighters before the task of equipping the next unit begins, probably at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. This will be Fighter Bomber Wing 31 "Boelcke" in Nörvenich, although an air-to-ground precision weapon capability is not expected before 2011/2012. FW 71 in Wittmund and FBW 33 in Büchel are also due to be equipped with the Eurofighter in the course of the next decade.
This presupposes, of course, that Germany goes ahead and buys all 180 aircraft envisaged in the Framework Agreement. So far Luftwaffe and Defence Ministry are strongly defending this figure. However, the SPD left no doubt during the budget debate in the Bundestag in September that in their view, "146 state-of-the-art, dual role-capable fighter aircraft in four units instead of five" was plenty, as MP Hans-Peter Bartels (a member of the Defence Committee) let it be known.
However, such utterances appear totally innocent compared with the urgent wish of the United Kingdom and Italy to reduce their unit numbers in the forthcoming Tranche 3. "Officially no one has yet approached us to alter the figures," said Eurofighter CEO Aloysius Rauen at the end of September. The consortium's tender has been on the table since June and the contracts have been drawn up as far as possible, so that it is now up to Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain to agree on the way forward. According to Rauen, a contract has to be in place in the first quarter of 2009 at the latest if an expensive production gap is to be avoided.
On the other hand the Eurofighter management are well aware of the need for industry to remain flexible. As long as the delivery periods do not change drastically, it would be feasible to split Tranche 3 into two parts, Rauen has suggested. This idea had been raised for the first time in the summer by the German Secretary of State for Military Procurement, Rüdiger Wolf. Again, Rauen did not rule out the possibility of the partner nations reselling some of their Eurofighters, although, if at all possible they should not get in the way of the ongoing export drives.
The partner companies of EADS, BAE Systems and Alenia are currently busy trying to win further orders in a number of countries beyond their two successes to date, Austria and Saudi Arabia. Key prospects at the moment are India, which has a requirement for 126 aircraft, and Switzerland, which needs up to 33 aircraft. Under the lead of EADS, the Eurofighter is due to demonstrate its prowess in Emmen in November, before the Luftwaffe then appears with the fighter jet at the Bangalore Air Show next February.
Eurofighter also reports "real interest" in a possible 50 aircraft from Japan, which faces a delay of some years before its American F-22's and F-35's will arrive. Romania is looking for 48 new fighters, although it is unlikely to be able to afford anything more than used aircraft. Other potential customers include Bulgaria (15 aircraft), Croatia (12), Turkey (40) and Greece (30). It is difficult to assess what real prospects the Eurofighter has in individual countries. At any rate it did not make it to the final shortlist of three in the Brazilian competition in October, losing out to competitors Boeing with the F/A-18E/F, Dassault with the Rafale and Saab with the Gripen.
Even without further exports, however, an imposing Eurofighter fleet should enter into service over the next few decades, and naturally this will require improvements enabling the integration of new weapons (Taurus, Small Diameter Bomb, Meteor etc.) and adaptation to future operational requirements. One such item is the installation of an E-scan radar (an antenna with active electronic beam steering through over 1000 transmit/receive modules). As Eurofighter CEO Rauen puts it, "We are in serious discussions." India is also interested in such a system, which would mean that the integration costs could be more widely spread. But according to Rauen, such a system needs to be reliable from the start and offer better performance than the present Captor.
From FLUG REVUE 12/2008