BAE is set to cut 2,000 jobs across the UK, mainly from it’s aviation sector. Orders have slowed for the venerable Hawk trainer jet, but the main reason is a slowdown in the orders for the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Tom Jones is the Deputy Editor at Raddington Report, has an interest in UK foreign policy and security capability and has contributed this article.
Once considered another shining example of European aviation cooperation, the product of a working union between the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Yet the Typhoon, whilst a capable aircraft, has not proved as successful as hoped. Why?
The first problem is that the Eurofighter is mainly suited to an interception role; something that the majority of aviation customers do not value particularly highly. Although an excellent dogfighter, since the end of the Cold War interceptors have less and less of a role in the structure of modern airforces; threats to the nations able to afford the Typhoons from nations with comparative airforces has decreased.
The current trend is towards airframes which are more capable of striking targets on the ground. The Eurofighter has proved adaptable at providing air-to-ground strikes, performing the role well in Libya, but it isn’t as well suited to this role as more adaptable multirole fighters, such as those offered by Russian jets like the Mig-35, the SU-27 (and it’s derivatives), Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the F/A-18 Hornet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the king of ground strike capability, the F-15E Strike Eagle.
The other problem takes the shape of two particular aircraft. The Typhoon is far from the only delta-wing interceptor on the market. There is, firstly, the Saab Gripen. The Gripen costs half as much as the Typhoon and, although an older aircraft, the Typhoon does not have twice the capability of a Gripen. Far from it, in fact; the Gripen’s performance, as with almost all 4th Gen. aircraft, is remarkably similar and with upgrade to avionics can prove extremely capable in terms of performance.
A huge number of nations currently operate the Gripen, as it offers real value and is remarkably easy to use, with quick operational turnaround times and the ability to take off from far shorter runways that they Typhoon.
The second aircraft is the Dassault Raffale. Originally, Dassault had been part of the consortium created in order to produce the Typhoon, but pulled out due to the differing requirements of the French military, the principle demand being that the new aircraft be carrier-capable.
This meant that orders from the French military were lost, a huge planned order of some 286. The lack of carrier operability also resulted in the the Raffale capturing the Indian export market, another potentially lucrative market (although the deal was less lucrative than first planned). Even though there is less deck space on carriers, the decision to make the Typhoon a solely ground-based aircraft seems foolish, as it massively reduced the number of potential orders. It is important to remember, however, that the aircraft was made to serve, rather than earn money in exports.
Added to the Eurofighter’s woes is that, thanks to the economic crash, there has been less money available for large-scale defence procurements. Whilst this has not stopped many continuing to purchase aircraft, it has caused many to look at less expensive options, or scale back orders. For an aircraft such as the Eurofighter, which is markedly more expensive than direct competitors, this was bad news.
Although it compares well to other aircraft, isn’t simply particularly well suited or adaptable adaptable to the needs of modern militaries.
It is unlikely the Eurofighter will continue to pick up further orders, although there is the possibility of gaining contracts in Asia, amongst other possible smaller buyers; production on the Eurofighter is more likely, however, to peter out by 2020.