LONDON — Beaten in one of the biggest combat jet export competitions of the decade, the Eurofighter nations have been looking urgently to use the lessons from the Typhoon aircraft’s big-ticket failure in India to improve the way future campaigns are mounted, industry executives said.
One lesson that governments and companies behind the Eurofighter consortium have taken from India’s selection of the rival Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter for final negotiation is that while Typhoon is a good aircraft, the underpinning structure is “suboptimal and needs to change,” one executive said.
Officials here said thinking about how to improve the Typhoon export process has been on the agenda for some time, but the Indian decision was the catalyst for rapid action, particularly as the European aircraft had also lost in Switzerland and Japan just weeks earlier.
The Typhoon program is run by the Eurofighter consortium of BAE Systems, EADS and Finmeccanica for the British, German, Italian and Spanish governments.
Saudi Arabia and Austria are its only two export successes to date.
Douglas Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies here, said the industrial management construct of Typhoon had always been suboptimal.
“From the outset of the program there has been an inevitable tension between the national industries and the umbrella organization [Eurofighter],” Barrie said. “The Typhoon is fundamentally a highly capable multirole combat aircraft; however, the pace of integration of air-to-surface weapons has been slow, and this has adversely affected how the aircraft is perceived.”
Initiatives aimed at bringing better focus to the technology transfer effort by the Typhoon companies — and an improved visibility across the partner nations on the pricing and associated risks of individual bids — are among the changes governments and industry are putting in place to sharpen the fast jet’s prospects in foreign competitions, a second executive said.
Potential improvements go beyond the companies into the political arena to ensure that having four nations in the program is a strength and not a weakness, as some said it was in the Indian competition.
“An area we are looking at is how can we make our four-nation construct work better,” a third executive said. “We want to deliver this as an advantage, which hasn’t always been the case.”
One thing that won’t change is the practice of giving one of the three Eurofighter contractors the lead on export bids.
Giving EADS Germany the lead for India generated some criticism in the U.K. Whether it was a good decision is a matter of debate.
One executive here only half-jokingly said the Typhoon wouldn’t even have made the shortlist had the British been in charge of the bid.
Brian Burridge, vice president for strategic marketing at Finmeccancia UK, said giving the companies export lead on individual campaigns is a matter of practicality, as the primes have a limited capacity to lead the bids.
Speaking in his capacity as the defense sector vice president of ADS, the British aerospace and defense trade lobby organization, Burridge told reporters May 30 that running a Typhoon export campaign is “very, very labor-intensive, so they are allocated as much on a capacity basis as they are a good match [based on] diplomatic history.”
Whoever takes the lead, many here believe that the biggest stumbling block for the Typhoon is its price.
“Eurofighter’s company structure definitely didn’t help in creating a clear roadmap for the AESA [active electronically scanned array] radar, which was essential for the India competition, but the biggest problem for Typhoon is its price tag, which puts it in a very small and very elite market segment,” said Richard Aboulafia, air analyst at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va.
Aboulafia said the Indians downselected the two most expensive aircraft from a field of five and opted for the “maximum offsets, maximum technology transfer and maximum systems improvements, and then went with the lowest cost of the two planes.”
That turned out to be the Dassault offer, and the French company continues to negotiate with the Indians in an attempt to finalize the $10 billion fighter deal.
Given the history of Indian procurement, that’s not necessarily a slam dunk for the French. The Typhoon nations remain in the wings, hoping Dassault can’t deliver on its promise, possibly allowing them to submit a revised offer.
Price may not have been the only issue for India, though. Firmer commitments by the British to key technology updates like the AESA radar would also have helped, according to Burridge.
“What would have made a difference would have been a U.K.-defined development path for the aircraft,” he said. “In other words, E-Scan [AESA] radar on contract, into series production, and the weapons system integrated on an earlier time scale, particularly Meteor [beyond-visual-range, air-to-air missile].
“It’s about intent, because as an ex-commander in chief of an air force, I look at what my potential suppliers are doing, and that’s how I draw my conclusion about the capability of the aircraft I’m going to get,” Burridge said.
The retired U.K. Royal Air Force air chief marshal said a number of countries will make the same deductions as India.
Britain committed to Typhoon development spending in its recent 10-year equipment plans announcement, holding out the expectation that capability upgrades will go ahead at some stage.
A U.K. MoD spokesman said that PR12, the 10-year plan, confirmed the intent to further develop Typhoon’s multirole capability, but he left open the question of timing.
“Final decisions will be taken when required and not before,” he said. “The integration of Paveway IV [precision guided bomb] is currently underway, and we are working with the other Typhoon partner nations towards an agreement on Meteor. The integration of AESA radar continues to be assessed by the MoD.”
“I’m never comfortable until I have a contract, but I think the light bulb is coming on,” Burridge said.
Things look like they are moving on the radar front. Progress on the radar effort, led by Finmeccanica subsidiary Selex Galileo, is expected within weeks.
Eurofighter and NETMA, the four governments’ joint management agency, are in the final stages of agreeing on a formal request for proposals from the nations to industry to target an in-service date to meet potential export customers’ requirements in 2015.
Malaysia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and a top-up order from Saudi Arabia are among the exports being pursued by Eurofighter across the Middle East and Asia.
Typhoon is also a bidder in South Korea — virtually a lost cause against Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which both offer a potentially winning combination of political clout and stealthy performance.
“It’s down to us to make Typhoon competitive and win as many export orders as we can,” Burridge said.