November 15, 2015: Strategy Page
Deliveries of Typhoon jet fighters has been delayed for the second time in a year because of manufacturing quality problems. The current delay has to do with assembly of the fuselage and does not cause a short term safety problem but rather a long-term one. If not corrected the aircraft would face a shorter service life (number of flight hours) that could only be corrected with expensive rebuilding.
Developed and built by a consortium of the largest European defense firms Typhoon was a replacement for the Cold War era Tornado fighter (a contemporary of the Su-27, F-15 and F-16). Development began in the 1980s and first flight was in 1994, after the Cold War unexpectedly ended. This reduced the urgency to get Typhoon into service, which didn’t happen until 2003. At that point many of the main customers (European NATO members) began to have second thoughts. The huge Russian (Soviet Union) air force faded away in the 1990s and there was no new air threat to replace it. By 2007 most customers for Typhoon were cutting their orders in a major way. For example Britain initially planned to buy 232 (Germany was to get 180, Italy 121, and Spain 87.) Britain already had 144 Eurofighters from the first two batches by 2009 and bought few additional aircraft after that.
The Typhoon turned out to be a pretty good warplane. This was discovered early on. By 2008 there were 135 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, and they aircraft have been in the air for a combined 35,000 hours (as of the end of 2007.) Half those hours were flown in 2007, as the Eurofighter entered regular service in several nations. About 20 percent of those flight hours were for flight testing, but the rest were for day-to-day operations. The future looked bright. But since then, competition from American and Russian fighters, for export sales, and lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases, has dimmed sales prospects. Typhoon got into combat in 2011 over Libya and performed well, but the demand from export customers (and local ones) was just not there.
Each aircraft costs over $120 million, including development costs. Current estimates indicate that about 600 will eventually be built. The Typhoon is a somewhat stealthy multi-role fighter. It is fast, maneuverable, and carries a lot of weapons. It also can be used for attack missions. This 23 ton aircraft will be the principal fighter in the air forces of Britain, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The Typhoon is closer in capability to the F-15, than the F-22, and is competing with the F-35 for many export sales. The Typhoon was purchased by Saudi Arabia, mainly to provide protection from Iran and some other Persian Gulf states did the same. But this was not enough to make up for the lost sales in Europe.
Typhoon has since been modified to operate as a fighter-bomber and can carry up to seven tons of weapons. Normally it carries a combination of smart bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks and can stay in the air for two to four hours per sorties depending on the mission.