Eurofighter Typhoon (formerly Eurofighter 2000) is Europe's premier swing role fighter jet. Designed and constructed by a consortium of companies under contract to the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain. The project was dogged by political wrangling, budget over-runs and major shifts in world affairs from the start. These in turn played a significant role in its delayed service entry. Originally scheduled to become operational in the late 80's the first squadron wasn't declared combat ready with the RAF till 2006. While many have and continue to criticise its usefulness in todays environment ever changing world events suggest its existence is a wise precaution.
Following the redefinition of the Air Staff Target, a joint Anglo-French-German co-operative study was launched, titled the European Combat Aircraft, or ECA. This project aimed to produce an aircraft matching all the needs of the tri-national airforces. For Britain this meant a multi-role aircraft capable of replacing both the F-4 Phantom fighter and the SEPECAT Jaguar strike system, with an in-service date of around 1987. France required a small, lightweight carrier capable ground attack aircraft to replace the Jaguar but were less keen on a fighter which may compete with its Mirage programme. The earliest in-service date for any French aircraft was put at 1991. Finally, Germany were looking for an air superiority fighter to replace their Phantoms, they had little interest in a strike ability.
At the same time as the tri-national ECF was being studied each nation continued its own line of research. In the UK this involved BAe with its P.106 and subsequent P.110 projects. The P.110 was a twin engine aircraft with a cranked delta-canard wing layout and side mounted intakes. In Germany, MBB started the TFK-90 (Taktisches Kampf-flugzeug 90) project which was also a delta-canard design but with a ventral intake and twin fins. In France, Dassault had initiated the ACX project (Avion de Combat eXperimentale) which would later become the Rafale. By 1981 it became clear that the ECF project was doomed to failure with no aircraft meeting all the diverse requirements.
The project and its associated demonstrators were to be a Panavia run study however the German and Italian governments withdrew funding. In 1982 the British MoD announced that it would help fund the ACA programme and the construction of a single UK based demonstrator, the Experimental Aircraft Program (EAP). In total the UK MoD contributed some £80million, the rest came from BAe, determined to stay with the project both MBB and Aeritalia also contributed.
The programme was to examine a range of technologies, from advanced materials through to highly unstable aerodynamics requiring digital flight control systems. Extensive use of composite materials such as Carbon Fibre Composite (CFC) was made combined with the development of Super-Plastic Formed, Diffusion Bonded (SPFDB) Titanium. Of most importance for the study was the development of a highly robust digital flight control system (DFCS). Both BAe and MBB had experience of digital flight control having operated the Jaguar ACT (Active Control Technologies) and Starfighter CCV (Control Configured Vehicle) demonstrators respectively. However, the EAP was designed to be far more unstable in the pitch axis than either the CCV or ACT.
On the 27th of October 1985 the EAP was towed out of the assembly hall at BAe Warton. Its first flight would be almost a year later in August 1986 with BAe Chief Test Pilot Dave Eagles at the controls. On this first flight it achieved supersonic velocities (mach 1.1) and completed high altitude manoeuvres. The EAP would fly for some five years making its final flight on May 1st 1991. It carried out 259 sorties and amassed some 195 hours and 21 minutes of flight time reaching velocities of mach 2+ and angles of attack of over 35 degrees in controlled flight. Overall, the EAP successfully demonstrated a number of technologies to be used in Eurofighter such as the DFCS and use of composite materials. In addition, valuable data was obtained on low observability using BAe's radar signature range at Warton.
The F/EFA project called for a STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) twin engine air superiority fighter optimised for Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat but retaining a ground attack capability. France however wanted a small lightweight system which may operate from its aircraft carriers. In addition they wanted a guaranteed 50% workshare and overall control of the project, these were of course unacceptable terms to Britain and Germany. All these problems came to a head in August 1985 during a meeting in Italy. The three Panavia nations (Britain, Germany and Italy) left the five nation F/EFA project and formed a new EFA programme. France of course went on alone to design the Rafale but Spain later rejoined the three other members. In June 1986 Eurofighter was born as a collaborative project between Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. The initial agreed project workshares (based on future orders) gave Britain and Germany 33% each, Italy 21% and Spain 13%.
The RAF had called for a low observable, twin engine, highly agile single seat fighter using state of art systems combined with STOL performance, optimised for BVR operation. Following the airframe award came the primary sensor contract for the radar, this was awarded to EuroRADAR (GEC-Marconi, DASA, Inisel and FIAR) in 1990. However, the good times were soon to come to an end.
The Eurofighter consortium was quick to examine alternatives to the current EFA in an attempt to keep Germany with the project. In total some seven reduced versions of EFA were studied. Only the two single engine variants were cheaper than EFA and none matched its performance. Therefore, to meet the German's required 30% cost reduction the Luftwaffe were allowed to fit alternative cheaper systems (such as the APG-65 rather than the ECR-90) and to delay service entry by two years. This New EFA (N/EFA), which for everyone but Germany was effectively the old EFA was given the official go ahead as Eurofighter 2000 in December 1992.
Although the BAe DA2 was the first to be completed the DASA DA1 was the first to fly. On the 27th March 1994 at Manching, Germany, Peter Wegel took the controls of the DA1 for a 40 minute flight covering handling and systems checks. Just 10 days later, DA2 took to the air at BAe Warton with BAe AirOps director Chris Yeo at the controls for a 50 minute flight. The reactions from both pilots were excellent.
The DA construction program accelerated (even with certain delays). The next major step in the flight program came with the Italian DA3 which flew on the 4th June 1995. This prototype was the first to be fitted with the EJ200, the new powerplant developed specifically for the Eurofighter. The BAe DA2 was placed on static display at the Paris airshow in June 1995 and three days after Paris on June 15th the DA2 went supersonic. The first public flying demonstration was in July at the IAT Fairford. The other prototypes, DA6 (the first two seater), DA5 (the first to be fitted with the ECR-90 radar), DA7 and DA4 followed from August 1996 through to March 1997.
In January 1996 a compromise was reached whereby Germany would take another 40 aircraft from 2012 and a new workshare of 30%, the eventual splits becoming 37/30/20/13. The next major (belated) breakthrough came at the Farnborough airshow in September 1996 when the UK announced funding for the construction phase of the project. Spain confirmed its order in November but Germany again delayed its decision. After much diplomatic activity between Britain and Germany, an interim funding arrangement of DM100million was contributed by the German government in July 1997 to continue flight trials. Further pressure finally resulted in German approval to purchase the Eurofighter in October 1997. It has also become apparent that the cost reductions requested by Germany have all been dropped, thus the German aircraft will also use the ECR-90 radar.
In January 1998, Eurofighter GmbH and EuroJet Turbo GmbH signed production, production investment and support contracts for these 620 aircraft worth ~$32B (billion U.S dollars), pricing each aircraft at some £33M ($50M). In a written response by Robert Walmsley (the Chief Executive for Defence Procurement in the UK) to a House of Commons question on the 6th of July 1999 stated that the current total UK program cost at current (1998/99) prices was £16.1B. Assuming that R&D still accounts for £4.4B (as it did for 1997/98 prices) each RAF aircraft (inclusive of all non-R&D costs) sits at £50.5M ($79.6M). According to the RAF the actual unit cost of each aircraft will be around £40-45M ($62.4M-70.2M). Why three different prices? Well it must be remembered that no standard Eurofighter exists, each nation can modify the basic system to fit their requirements. For price comparisons though a good estimate would be between £40million and £50million since the RAF model will offer the highest basic specification.
Now that the Eurofighter has finally entered the production phase a chapter can be closed on the project. However, it is by no means the end of development. Of prime importance is the avionics software which will remain under development for some time to come. The initial deliveries of Tranche-1 for example will only be supplied with software designed to enable pilot training and conversion. Later builds will see this extended to cover the full capabilities of the aircraft as the first squadrons form in 2005.
In February 1999 Greece announced its decision to open discussions with Eurofighter with the intention to purchase between 60 and 90 fighters. Unfortunately while Greece has continued to commit itself to its announced purchase it has postponed any contract signing till after the Olympic games in 2004. Before this announcement Norway was the most promising potential customer. In February 1999 Norway requested Eurofighter GmbH to officially bid for its requirement of around 20 fighters, in addition Lockheed Martin were asked to bid with the F-16 (the Rafale and Gripen having been ruled out). As with the Greek bid tight economics caused Norway to subsequently cancel the bidding process. Instead they have announced an intention to re-open bidding at some future point. However this will see order numbers increase from the twenty aircraft originally planned for to encompass an additional number. A third potential customer, South Korea looks set to select either Rafale or more likely, the F-15K.
However beyond these and one or two other possible sales the future is a little more murky. Several nations which had intended to open fighter replacement competitions have pushed back their schedules due to financial concerns. This increases the possibility of other aircraft becoming available for general export such as the F-22 Raptor, Joint Strike Fighter, FOAS, S-37, etc. Therefore although the outlook for overseas sales of the Typhoon is far from bleak it isn't quite as rosy as it once was.
Beyond specific upgrades there are several other projects underway which may result in Eurofighter being used in additional roles. In the UK there are currently two future aircraft projects underway, FOAS or the Future Offensive Air System to replace the IDS Tornado's and FJCA or Future Joint Combat Aircraft to replace RN and RAF Harrier's. Of these FOAS, a system intended to replace the Tornado IDS in use by Britain, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia is the least likely to evolve directly from the Eurofighter. Although BAe have said that a big wing Eurofighter study is underway which may be submitted as a FOAS solution it is very unlikely such a platform would meet demands on all aspect stealth.
The second application, FJCA was a more promising project. The biggest issues in this case are strengthening the landing gear and fuselage to allow arrested recovery of the aircraft and the marinisation of certain potential areas of corrosion. In the case of the former BAE Systems devised some novel solutions. For take-off the Typhoon's excellent short field performance combined with a ski jump ramp should allow for relatively short deck take-offs, removing the need for catapults. For recovery a number of studies were carried out, for example one looked at the use of fans to blow air across the deck while the aircraft lands. This would decrease the required landing velocity and therefore reduce the forces on the aircraft fuselage upon arrest. Other investigations examined linking the Typhoon's FCS to the pitch and roll of the carrier. This would allow automated flared landings to be carried out again reducing stresses on the aircraft.
Following an in-depth study of the various options available for FJCA; JSF, Naval Eurofighter, Rafale, F-18E/F or an entirely new aircraft the British MoD decided JSF (as either the STOVL or CV variant) was the best candidate. Unless something critical happens to JSF it looks unlikely that a navalised Eurofighter will ever operate from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier.