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03 10 03. Following on from our story last week ‘TYPHOON FLIES INTO TURBULENCE’ (BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol. 5 ISSUE NO 38, SEPTEMBER 26TH 2003), the FT reported that the Italian partner in the Eurofighter consortium has admitted that more than a third of the jet fighter programme is under threat as European governments reassess spending priorities in overstretched defence budgets.

Finmeccanica acknowledged there were real concerns over whether the last 236 jets, known as tranche three, of the planned 620 aircraft would be built for the four nations – Germany, Italy, the UK and Spain – that initiated the programme. The project employs 120,000 people across Europe.

Alessandro Pansa, chief financial officer of Finmeccanica, told the Financial Times: “Tranche three of Eurofighter is something that is doubtful.” He added: “I hope it does take place but I cannot say today that I am sure about that.”Analysts said Mr Pansa had been more damning about the prospects for tranche three in a recent meeting in London. Finmeccanica is the parent of Alenia Spazio, which has a 21 per cent share of the Eurofighter project, alongside BAE Systems (33 per cent) and European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (46 per cent).

Mr Pansa’s comments reflect a growing belief across Europe that Eurofighter will suffer big cuts as governments struggle to juggle limited defence budgets and divert funds towards more modern technologies. Critics of the Eurofighter, conceived in the mid-1980s, claim it is an outdated concept. Military strategy is now shifting towards fighting small-scale wars against so-called rogue states or tackling terrorists. But supporters of the aircraft say it will be able to perform bombing operations as effectively as it will shoot down enemy aircraft.

The case for the Eurofighter, however, is partly being undermined by the joint US development of a next-generation ground attack aircraft, known as the F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 is scheduled to enter service late this decade – around the same time tranche three of Eurofighter is due. The UK and Italy are heavily involved in the F-35 development programme.

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