Eurofighter’s Upgrades: Enough? In Time?
At the opening of the Farnborough 2012 defense exhibition, British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the Eurofighter’s future:
“Typhoon’s growth potential is huge and the four partner nations, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK have agreed the next steps required to further exploit this. The integration of the METEOR missile, an Electronically Scanned Radar, enhancements of the Defensive Aids System, further development of the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and integration of new weapons.”
All of these capabilities will be welcome. Indeed, all are necessary, in order to address key platform weaknesses, and keep the plane competitive in the international marketplace as a multi-role fighter. A short synopsis of each aspect follows.
MBDA’s Meteor missile has just finished testing, and Britain has signed a production contract. Meteor will be entering production for the UK by the end of 2012. The Eurofighter has always been one of the initial fielding platforms for this ramjet-powered, Mach 4, long range air-to-air missile, and Meteor-armed RAF Eurofighters are slated for fielding in 2015-2016. This is old news, but good news. Meteor’s reach will be an excellent fit with the Typhoon’s design intent, and will give the Typhoon a notable edge against American “teen series” fighters. A shorter fielding timeline would be better news.
The AESA radar is becoming a competitive gap for Eurofighter. American fighters have operational AESAs, France is about to start fielding the RBE2-AA on the Rafale, and Sweden’s Saab is about to begin flight tests with its ES-05 Raven AESA. Eurofighter hasn’t even funded serious development yet (vid. March 22/12), and that needs to change very soon. Reports indicate that the agreement is just agreement over the RFP’s details, and that the funded AESA development effort won’t begin until 2013, with delivery only by 2015. That’s late, and the competitive hole gets deeper every day.
When and if it is fielded, that E-Scan/ CAPTOR-E radar will need to be offered with multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground modes, in order to be competitive in the global marketplace.
Eurofighter’s Praetorian integrated defensive system has been marketed as a strength, but was cited as a weakness in Switzerland’s evaluation. These systems also need to be upgraded periodically, in order to keep up with evolving threats and operational experience.
Planned near-term weapon enhancements for the Typhoon include the addition of dual-mode laser/GPS guided bombs (Paveway IV in Britain, GBU-16 Enhanced Paveway elsewhere), the aforementioned Meteor missile, and fuller integration of the LITENING III surveillance & targeting pod. Cameron’s announcement represents the go-ahead for P1EA, the Phase 1 Enhancement program for Typhoon Tranche 2 fighters. BAE is reportedly beginning to test test-fly a future P1EB package with more software flexibility between air and ground attack. BAE’s client Saudi Arabia is said to be looking at similar enhancements, along with Thales’ Damocles surveillance & targeting pod.
The program will need to go further than that. As shown by DID’s comparison of the Eurofighter vs. Saab’s Gripen fighter, the Typhoon’s limited weapon & equipment options are a clear weakness for a “multi-role” fighter. That has cost the Eurofighter in competitions like Singapore’s (F-15SG won), and hurt its prospects more recently as well. Defense News:
“Speaking to reporters in June, Brian Burridge, vice president for strategic marketing at Finmeccanica UK, said having the AESA radar on contract and having weapon systems integrated on an earlier timescale, particularly Meteor, would have made a difference in India.”
That weakness becomes even more pronounced when compared to older American designs like the F-15 Strike Eagle, F-16 Falcon/Viper, and F/A-18 Super Hornet, all of which have much broader weapon arrays and AESA radar options available. Fixing that competitive weakness will require the integration of at least one long-range cruise missile, a long-range guided glide bomb, an anti-ship missile, and an anti-radar missile. “Nice to haves” include offering customers more cruise missile and glide bomb choices, a higher-end reconnaissance pod than the current ReeceLITE, and short-range strike missiles.
With Tranche 3B fading away, and India out as a big export win, upgrades like these may become only way to keep part of the Eurofighter Typhoon’s manufacturing base going. They’re also that base’s best hope for landing significant export orders.
The question is when some of these upgrade “agreements” will become signed contracts, with actual dollars behind them. For the Eurofighter’s sake, it needs to be soon.
- BAE Systems (July 11/12) – METEOR integration work progresses on Typhoon. Actually, they’re only beginning user interface testing in a simulator. It’s a smart move, but it shows how far they have to go.
- Flight International (July 10/12) – FARNBOROUGH: Eurofighter confirms enhancement programme
- UK Prime Minister’s Office (July 9/12) – Prime Minister opens Farnborough International Air Show 2012
- Defense News (July 8/12) – Typhoon Partners Hope to Boost Jet Exports