A BAE Typhoon takes off ahead of an air display at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2010. (Ben Stansall / AFP)
LONDON — The four nations behind the Typhoon program have asked the Eurofighter consortium for firm proposals to develop an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to be ready for fielding on the combat jet by 2015.
The NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA), the group responsible for overseeing the program for the British, German, Italian and Spanish governments, issued a request for proposals (RfP) to Eurofighter last week.
Development of an AESA radar is deemed critical to Typhoon's ability to compete against export rivals from the U.S., France and Sweden, all of whom either have the capability in service or are committed to gaining it. Officials are also looking at integrating a new air-to-air missile, among other improvements.
One executive said the RfP for the AESA radar “covers an agreed specification from the four partner nations for the AESA requirement.”
If the program stays on schedule, the governments and industry could be under contract to develop the radar early next year.
Eurofighter and Euroradar, the Selex Galileo-led consortium tasked with supplying radars for the Typhoon, signed a letter of intent with the nations to develop an AESA radar in mid-2011.
The arrangement, though, was funded by industry rather than the governments. This time around, the nations are committing their own funds to a development plan, with radar specifications agreed on by all four partners.
The AESA move is one of several steps underway to help address some of the capability issues that dogged the jet when it lost a multibillion-dollar face-off with Dassault Aviation's Rafale for a large Indian order earlier this year.
Euroradar already produces the mechanically scanned Captor radar used on the jet and has been working on an AESA system marrying the processing capabilities of the existing unit to an actively scanned front end.
Separately, Selex is well advanced in the development of an AESA radar for the Saab Gripen and continues to work with the British on progressing aspects of the technology.
Details on the RfP are scarce, but executives said they expect the in-service target date for the radar to be 2015, the same timeline as requested by the Indians during the competition with Rafale.Potential export customer requirements remain the driver for the moment. Malaysia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are among a list of potential new buyers for Typhoon. Saudi Arabia will likely buy a second batch of aircraft on top of the 72 already ordered.
One drawback, though, remains the reluctance of the four cash-strapped European partners to commit to series production at this stage.
But industry executives see the nations' decision to fund the program and specify their detailed technical requirements as a strong statement of intent.
“They may not have given a date to fit the radar in their own aircraft, but they wouldn't be spending scarce cash resources unless they were firmly committed,” one executive said.
New Missile, Other Upgrades
In another move to hike capability, the Typhoon partners have agreed to the first test-firing of the new MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile from a BAE Systems test aircraft in the final quarter of this year, said Bob Smith, BAE Systems combat air engineering director. No missile integration contract yet exists, and Smith said that will be part of the debate after delivery next year of the second of two upgrades to Typhoon being carried out under the Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E) program.
P1E is the biggest boost to the aircraft's operational capability since it entered service. The first enhancement, known as P1Ea, is due to be delivered to NETMA this month and should be cleared for service by next spring.
The work integrates the Litening III laser designator pod with the Paveway IV and EGBU-16 precision-guided bombs with improved man/machine interface and an expanded communications fit.
The second P1E phase is scheduled to be delivered next year and will allow the aircraft to undertake simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground engagements, and other improvements.
Previously, Typhoon had been limited to the use of Enhanced Paveway II in the air-to-ground role. The aircraft made its combat debut in Libya last year and received a further boost in June with the performance of Luftwaffe Typhoon pilots in the exacting Red Flag Alaska exercise.
A Eurofighter spokesman said the “P1E program, the E-Scan radar and the Meteor are important milestones on the way for further enhancements of the Typhoon's operational capabilities.”
The Eurofighter consortium consists of BAE Systems, EADS and Finmeccanica for the four governments. Smith said the Eurofighter firms are assessing what more they could do to improve Typhoon's export credentials outside of technology insertions wanted by the four partner nations.
“There is some small amount of industry funding to look at equipment we would like to investigate for the export market. What we are saying is, do the partner nations want this [capability]? If they do, it can be part of a common program; if not, should industry be putting the money in to cover it?” he said.
Rafale gained the nod from India earlier this year to conduct final negotiations for the Asian nation's multirole combat aircraft requirement after it beat Typhoon on price. Those price negotiations remain ongoing, leaving Eurofighter on the sidelines awaiting the opportunity to enter a new bid if Dassault fails to seal the deal.
Industry executives here said the sort of deals won by Rafale are never secured on price alone; other factors are normally involved.
Speaking to the Italian parliament in February, Italian procurement secretary Gen. Claudio Debertolis was downbeat about the Eurofighter program, stating, “Unfortunately, India has shown that the cost of the aircraft — the competition was lost above all on cost — as well as the air-to-ground capabilities, are factors in making the aircraft uncompetitive.”
Since the Indian decision, the Typhoon nations and industry have been doingmore than just licking their wounds. The governments and industry have been moving to sharpen their act on price, process, political co-coordination, technology growth commitments and other issues.
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.
Now the nations are starting to address some of the growth shortcomings.
For some in industry, though, it's much later than it should have been.
“It's great, but it's two years too late. Eurofighter is nearly the best multirole fighter in the world, and it's the ‘nearly' bit that's been the problem,” one executive said.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, said the partners had remained focused on the original interceptor capabilities of Typhoon longer than they should have once it became apparent requirements were changing and there were substantial export opportunities available.
“They haven't got there quickly enough. There remain a number of missile types that need to be added.
“The long pole in the tent, though, is the AESA radar. It needs to be integrated as quickly as possible. The Captor mechanically scanned radar they currently use has great capability, but AESA will give you more performance and at a lower through-life cost.”
Staff writer Tom Kington contributed to this report.