Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An evolutionary dead-end?

Hopefully this will be my last Eurofighter post. Unless the whole project suddenly dies. Which is still a possibility judging by recent news reports.

Rafale it seems has scored its first export order. Back on April 15th, 2005, Financial Times reported Saudi Arabia has inked a six billion Euro order for 48 Rafales with an option for 48 more. This will allow the RSAF to completely replace all of the elderly F-5E Tiger II fighters still in service. Plus it steals a big market from Eurofighter GmbH.

Thirty years after the YF-16 premiered at the Paris Air Show, the plane was still being displayed there along with a lot of new stuff. It seems the Turkish company TAI will be going ahead with refurbishing its locally built F-16s, Turkey is also a partner in the F-35 JSF program. Denmark will be deciding next year on what will replace its fleet of F-16s. Right now talk in Denmark is on spending $2.13billion US for 48 planes. If Denmark sticks to that price tag, unless the Typhoon somehow magically gets cheaper then it is out of the running unless Denmark decides it can live with one squadron of fighters for its whole air force.

What will be a driving factor on what plane to purchase, besides the price tag, will be the delivery time for each aircraft. As it stands now, F-35s will be delivered to the USAF, USMC, and USN starting in 2008 with deliveries to the Royal Navy happening in 2010. Other countries that are Level II or Level III like Italy and Canada will begin receiving their aircraft after the start of UK delivery. If things go according to schedule, when the four consortium partners in Eurofighter start to receive their 236 Typhoons, the JSF team will be delivering the first export orders to the Royal Navy. By studying information released, it takes Eurofighter GmbH approximately two years to build one Typhoon and four years to produce 236 aircraft on four production lines. We will know something about Tranche 3 in 2007 when it comes time to commit funding for it. Tranche 3 production is supposed to start in 2008 with first delivery in 2010. So the countries now backing the F-35 JSF can wait and see how the F-35 progresses without impacting their opportunity to buy Typhoons. So even if the F-35 delivery date slips a year or two, it is advantageous to wait on the F-35 because Eurofighter GmbH will still be delivering for local consumption Typhoons until 2012 and that is the earliest the first export Typhoon will come off the production line.

I think what will seriously drive countries into the JSF camp is the following: Delivery time, capabilities, and price. By waiting and committing to the F-35 JSF project, Netherlands, Norway[though there are rumors of Norway going Typhoon now], Denmark, Italy, United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, and Canada are buying into a fifth generation advanced combat aircraft that all of them have had a say in its capabilities and have shared in its development. Versus Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon/Taifun which is the last fourth generation combat aircraft to go into production. By going with the F-35 these countries will be buying an aircraft with more advanced electronics and is more stealthy. And the biggest factor of all is the cost, at this point the most expensive version of the F-35 will be the carrier version at $48 million per airplane. So far not ferreted out a price on Tranche 3 Typhoons but we know how much is being dropped into Tranche 2 production and the RAF Eurofighter site estimated a total cost of $35billion US for the whole 620 plane production run, we know the whole program has to cost more than that since $16billion US was committed to Tranche 2 production alone.

I think in less than twenty years time the last Warton produced Typhoon will be at the Imperial War Museum on display as the last Typhoon in British service displayed next to a TSR.2. And the other four nations will have done the same thing, retired all of their Eurofighters. And the reason will be simple. Typhoon is the most capable fourth generation fighter. The F/A-22 and the F-35 are but the first wave of fifth generation fighters. Because of vicious politics and towering egos, an aircraft that if it had arrived just ten years earlier would have been a world beater instead the whole program seems destined to be an expensive aeronautical footnote in the history of aviaton.

No comments: