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By Tim Robinson Editor, Aerospace International, The Royal Aeronautical Society

02 Apr 13. After missing out in India’s MMRCA contest, a combination of private funding, demanding export customers and high-level political backing means Eurofighter Typhoon is now set to unlock its true multi-role potential. Tim Robinson reports from BAE Systems in Warton.

Just over a year ago BAE Systems and its Eurofighter partners faced a bitter blow. India’s high-profile MMRCA fighter contest saw the Typhoon pipped at the post by Rafale. Meanwhile, job cuts in the UK and the high-profile BAE-EADS merger that fell apart, left some wondering over BAE’s future.

Yet today while Dassault is finding out first-hand the complexity of the labyrinth Indian defence procurement process, in December, BAE and Eurofighter celebrated a key win in Oman – with 12 Typhoons and additional eight Hawk trainers. Meanwhile, additional Saudi sales could be on the cards, while the company is looking at opportunities in Malaysia and UAE. It’s considered a long shot, but there even may be a chance of Typhoon in RCAF colours, if Canada’s review of its JSF commitment leads to it axing its F-35 purchase. Privately too,
BAE contend that all is still not lost in India and Dassault may yet slip up.

Moreover, there is now a high-level appreciation of the value of manufacturing and the defence sector in spearheading UK exports. The result is that BAE’s Military Air and Information (MAI) business has a new focus and energy. A combination of long-term planning, export customers with ambitious plans and a wake-up call for high-level decision makers is set to unlock the Typhoon’s full capabilities.

An analogy from history might be the iconic Spitfire which went from a
two-bladed propeller point defence fighter armed with eight machine guns to, by 1945, a Griffon-engined cannon-armed multirole platform capable of air superiority, strike, reconnaissance and even carrier-based operations.

Long-term planning

Part of this has not been luck, but long term planning by both government and industry. While the mainstream media has often misunderstood the aircraft as a Cold War air defence fighter, the plan to increase its multi-role capabilities has always been there from the beginning. “What it’s been designed for, first and foremost…” Says Bob Smith, Engineering Director, Combat Air, at BAE Systems, “is an air superiority fighter. It’s highly agile, and has a big wing with 13 weapon stations. Those 13 stations create the ability to have quite a flexible ‘swing-role’ weapon load. You can have air-to-air or air-to-ground but the key capability is to have the mix – you can do them both in the same mission.”

However, the end of the Cold War and the political manoeuvring needed for a complex multinational programme led to a slowing of Eurofighter development effort as countries revaluated their defence priorities in the face of the changed strategic situation. Then came 9/11. With the war on terror a prime focus, exploiting the full capabilities of a high-end fighter took a lower priority than anti-IED efforts or up-armouring vehicles. More recently, the 2008 financial crisis and the chaos in the Eurozone has put extreme pressure on European defence budgets.

Yet the complexity of Eurofighter’s four partner nations and their related aerospace champions, BAE, EADS and Alenia, as well as providing foot dragging frustrations, has had a number of critical advantages. First it has provided guaranteed sales to four European air forces. Secondly it has meant that the programme has been insulated to some extent from politician’s whims, where a single-nation programme might have been cancelled. Thirdly, and most importantly for future capabilities, the varied industrial partners have allowed their deep pockets to provide for self-funding to lay the foundations to unlock these improved capabilities.


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