Kuwait's delayed deal to buy 28 Eurofighter jets was signed Tuesday, giving the European fighter program a much-needed shot in the arm and providing Italy's Finmeccanica with its largest contract.
Kuwait has ordered its aircraft equipped with an electronically scanned radar, which is being developed for the aircraft but has yet to be adopted by Eurofighters operated by the four launch partners on the program — Italy, the UK, Germany and Spain.
The radar is being developed by the European EuroRADAR consortium, which is led by Finmeccanica.
In a statement, the Eurofighter consortium said the deal covered 22 single-seat and six twin-seat aircraft, all third tranche standard.
The deal, which has been held up by contractual negotiations, is based on a government-to-government accord signed between Kuwait and Italy in September.
The Eurofighter deal approval was issued Monday, according to a report released Tuesday from the Kuwaiti Cabinet of Ministers.
The report said the council discussed at length the Kuwaiti Audit Bureau's report and recommendations to complete the purchase of the fighters after they were provided with the required cost breakdown.
The Cabinet approved the purchase of the 28 Eurofighters from Italy for €7.957 billion (US $9.062 billion).
Accoriding to Kuwait University political science professor and lecturer at the Mubarak Al-Abdullah Joint Staff Command College, Abdullah al-Shayji ,the Kuwaiti purchase is a clear message to the US government.
"This message clearly states that Kuwait will not be waiting anymore for US approvals, and other alternatives are present," he said.
Jean-Marc Rickli, assistant professor with the Department of Defence Studies at King's College London and lecturer at the Joaan Bin Jassim Joint Command and Staff College in Qatar, said that the perceived feeling of abandonment by the West among Gulf leaders and the Gulf military is strong.
"It grew out of the West reactions to the Arab Spring, the West nonintervention in Syria and the US reengagement with Iran. This perception made them prone to be more proactive. The Saudi intervention in Yemen is a case in point," Rickli said.
These new contracts, Rickli said, should be seen as a result of US perceived disengagement toward the Gulf states since the beginning of the Arab Spring.
"Weapons procurement has always be a way to cultivate and diversify allies for the Gulf countries. Since 2015, another factor has been added: the impetus under Saudi leadership for the Gulf states to guarantee their own security and contribute to regional security. This requires new capabilities," he said.
Furthermore, the question of the timing of such procurement is an issue in itself, he said, as the falling oil prices have put enormous strains on the Gulf states' budgets.
Beyond the financial burden that such procurements represent, the issue of training new pilots is problematic.
"For each aircraft, you will need three to four pilots. In the case of Kuwait, this means training about 100 new pilots. Both Kuwait and Qatar are small states with a small population. As flying fifth generations aircraft is very demanding, finding enough people with the right skills among the local population will be a challenge," he said.
One way to offset these financial and human capabilities challenges, he suggested, would be to pull resources together so that certain states specialize in specific niche capabilities.
"However, as the NATO and EU examples demonstrate, this is very difficult to achieve because states are very reluctant to share their sovereignty when it comes to guaranteeing their security. This can only happen if they share a common threat assessment and have common interests. Saudi Arabia is trying to push for this with its counterterrorism force initiative, but there is still a very long way to go despite some achievement with the recent Northern Thunder multinational exercise," he said.
As lead company on the deal, Finmeccanica signed the deal in Kuwait with the country's Ministry of Defense in the presence of Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti and her Kuwaiti counterpart, Defense Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah.
The contract involves the production of aircraft in Italy and covers logistics, operational support, and the training of flight crews and ground personnel in cooperation with the Italian Air Force.
The contract also provides for the upgrade of infrastructure in Kuwait which will be used for Typhoon operations.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the first two Eurofighters will arrive in Kuwait in the fourth quarter of 2019 and final delivery occur by 2022. The statement also said the planes will remain operational until 2050.
The Defense Ministry noted that the agreement signed Tuesday includes logistical and training support. The training support will include pilot training and technical training where pilot instructors will also be present in Kuwait; it will also include the provision of one full simulator and two partial simulators.
The Defense Ministry added that the contract includes the construction of operations buildings, maintenance buildings, and pilot and technician training buildings in a new extension of the Ali Al Salem Air Base to accommodate the development of the aircraft through the creation of a new runway.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the deal would bolster long-term cooperation with the Gulf state.
"The UK and Kuwait enjoy a long, historic and close relationship. Kuwait's decision to select Typhoon represents a vote of confidence in this world class aircraft and will further strengthen our defence and security cooperation over the years ahead," he said in a statement Tuesday.
Describing the deal, Finmeccanica CEO Mauro Moretti said: "This is Finmeccanica's largest ever commercial achievement," adding, "It is an outstanding industrial success with significant benefits, not only for our company and the other Eurofighter consortium partners, but also for the entire Italian aerospace industry. The contract will support expertise and skilled jobs at Italian small and medium-sized security and defense companies."
Since it entered service in 2003, over 470 Eurofighters have been delivered to the air forces of six countries and have flown over 330,000 hours, Finmeccanica said. Some 599 aircraft have been ordered by eight customers: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Germany, Spain, Italy, the UK and Austria.
Awad Mustafa from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Andrew Chuter from London contributed to this story.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.