ROME and LONDON — Kuwait's plan to buy 28 Eurofighter aircraft covers new-build, third tranche, swing-role versions, complete with electronic scanned radar and weaponry, an Italian source familiar with the agreement said.

"These will be the most advanced Eurofighters yet, and Kuwait will be the first country to have an e-scan Eurofighter," the source said. "The aircraft will be completely swing role and involve a weapons package."

Italy, which partners with the UK, Germany and Spain on the Eurofighter program, took the lead in the marketing campaign in Kuwait, which culminated in an agreement Sept. 11on Friday, the Italian government said after a meeting in Rome between the prime ministers of Italy and Kuwait.

"Both welcomed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the Eurofighter," the Italian government said in a statement.

The source said the deal, which is worth €7 billion to €8 billion (US$7.9 billion to $9 billion), would be finalized by year end, with deliveries starting in 2019.

A deal for a swing-role fighter with weapons could involve munitions such as the Storm Shadow and Meteor.

Industry sources in the region said Kuwait has agreed to buy 22 single-seat and six twin-seat Typhoons. One industry executive said the agreement is welcome, not least because after a flurry of Middle Eastern successes this year for French rival Dassault with the Rafale, the Kuwaiti decision "reinvigorates other opportunities in the gulf region for Typhoon."

France secured deals for the Rafale in Qatar and Egypt earlier this year, and deliveries to Cairo are underway.

A second Italian source said that over 50 percent of the value of the Eurofighter deal in Kuwait would be pocketed by Italy's Finmeccanica, which is among the European countries building Eurofighter structures but also works on systems for the aircraft through its Selex unit.

The first source said the aircraft would be new-build and not diverted from Italy's Eurofighter order book. The deal, he added, would involve ground crew training, logistic support, air base infrastructure upgrades and liaison between the Italian and Kuwaiti air forces to offer operational support for electronic systems.

Kuwaiti pilots would likely train at the Italian Air Force's Grosseto Air Base, he said.

Saudi Arabia and Oman are already Typhoon customers in the region. The Saudis have been talking about a further buy of the jets and Bahrain is another potential customer.

News that the Italian and Kuwaiti governments have been in detailed discussions over the sale has been circulating since midyear. The deal follows reports in May that the Kuwaitis were in discussions with the US to purchase up to 40 Boeing F/A-18 fighters.

The position on those negotiations is unknown, although there has been some speculation in the past that the Kuwaitis could go for a split buy.

A US source acknowledged there is always a chance for a split buy from Kuwait, and said talks on a Super Hornet sale to Kuwait are proceeding.

While declining to name Kuwait specifically, a Boeing spokeswoman said the company and the US government are still in conversation with potential Middle Eastern customers.

The first Italian source said the government-to-government memorandum of understanding between Italy and Kuwait covered a contract that had been agreed but would now require ratification by the Kuwaiti parliament and national audit office.

Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute for of Strategic Studies in London, said the deal could be a significant boost for the fortunes of the Eurofighter.

"If the deal is concluded it will be a welcome step back onto the front foot for the Typhoon after reverses in the region at the hands of the Rafale. The caveat, though, is it can be a tough task to pull defense deals over the finishing line in Kuwait," he said.

He said the idea of a split buy with the F/A-18 Super Hornet is not out of the question but it depends on how big the Kuwaitis want their Air Force to be and whether they are prepared to support the infrastructure expansion that would require.

One European executive said he had always assumed any F/A-18 buy would be to replace the older version of the US jet already in the fleet and not as part of expansion plans.

Sourcing combat jet fleets from different suppliers is common practice in the region, leading some executives to think that Qatar, which earlier in the year agreed to buy 36 Rafale jets, may also opt to make another purchase of European or US jets.

The second Italian source said he did not rule out Qatar now choosing the Eurofighter to complete a split buy alongside its Rafales.

News of the Typhoon success was the European defense aerospace industry's second reason to celebrate inside a few days. European fighter rival Saab announced Sept 10 that all conditions required to complete the 39.3 billion Swedish krona (US$4.7 billion) deal selling 36 Gripen NGs to Brazil had been fulfilled, and the contract and an associated industrial cooperation deal had come into effect.



Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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