News last week that the UK and Saudi Arabia had signed a Memorandum of Intent to finalise discussions for the purchase of 48 Typhoons has placed the spotlight firmly on the European fighter. BAE Systems released a statement that said: ‘This is a positive step towards agreeing a contract for our valued partner. We are committed to supporting the Kingdom as it modernises the Saudi Armed Forces and develops key industrial capabilities critical to the delivery of Vision 2030.’
Establishing credibility and capability sums up the primary challenge that has faced the Eurofighter partner companies over the past decade. With notable disappointments in Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (which hasn’t yet procured a new fighter) and India, the Eurofighter and its manufacturing base suffered from a lack of either of these attributes. Limited weapons options and roles, tied to a sluggish four-nation industrial behemoth, and a high price tag, made the Typhoon an easy target for criticism.
Operation ‘Ellamy’ in Libya in 2011 has been recognized as something of a turning point. The Royal Air Force had all but hibernated its pioneering ‘austere air-to-ground’ role for the Typhoon due to a lack of funding, but the ability for pilots to spin this back up at short notice as the Libya situation evolved was remarkable.
Through a fog different acronyms and buzz-phrases, Phase 1 Enhancement (or P1E) emerged as the first big step to taking the Typhoon into the important swing-role environment. While P1E was a significant step, it was painfully slow. The initial contract was signed on March 30, 2007 and it took until late 2014 to reach the front line.
At the Farnborough International Air Show in 2014, Eurofighter made a number of notable announcements, all of which were crucial to building upon P1E. Importantly, this included the signing of an integration contract for the MBDA Storm Shadow stand-off cruise missile under the so-called Phase 2 Enhancement (P2E). As well as Storm Shadow, this phase would also bring in the long-awaited ‘big stick’ of the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).
The follow-on P3E saw BAE Systems embarking on an aggressive Brimstone anti-armor weapon flight trials in 2016. This took a major step forward on July 13, 2017, with the first live firing of the weapon from a Typhoon. The RAF’s drive for a Typhoon that could effectively replace the Tornado GR4 by early next year has transformed the Typhoon in terms of delivery timelines and meaningful capability.
Looking further ahead, the partners are now evaluating what elements will form P4E and P5E. A spokesman told Combat Aircraft: ‘We have a good understanding of what the packages will be.’ The Tranche 3 aircraft are the only jets configured from the outset for the E-Scan radar and provisioned for Conformal Fuel Tanks.
A well crafted package of coherent upgrades, along with a robust customer delivery roadmap, has enabled Eurofighter to shake-off doubters. Establishing credibility and capability has been the key to this reversal of fortunes. All of this has been underpinned by the operator nations, who have demonstrated the genuine utility of the jet.
To read more on how the Typhoon’s reversal of fortunes, don’t miss our free 24-page supplement in the April issue of Combat Aircraft — you can subscribe here to print and digital versions: http://www.combataircraft/subscribe