Eurofighter remains victim of timing and circumstance as it competes for international jet fighter deals

THE FARNBOROUGH BLOG, 22 July 2010. The Eurofighter Typhoon is arguably one of the finest jet fighters in the world today. With air-to-air, and air-to-ground capability, Eurofighter AESA radar, advanced avionics, and unmatched maneuverability, this high-performance tactical jet is a favorite the air forces of Austria, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Still the fighter jet and its makers find themselves in an awkward position when it comes to export sales.

There is no question about the Eurofighter's capabilities, in fact U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. Jumper flew the fighter in 2004, and was quoted as saying, "I have flown all the air force jets. None was as good as the Eurofighter." Unfortunately Eurofighter finds itself sandwiched between two generations of competitors, which may leave it on the losing end in export competitions for fighter programs outside of Europe.

When militaries around the world look for the most attractive front-line jet fighters to buy to fulfill national defense needs, generally their gazes first alight on the U.S.-built Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If pressing defense needs require a new fighter before the F-35 is available for export, world air forces often look to the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter as a means to get them through until the time comes when they can buy the F-35.

Strangely, the Eurofighter -- built by a consortium of three companies: Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, and EADS working through a holding company Eurofighter GmbH -- rarely, if ever, seems to be in a mix for consideration, which is causing an apparent inferiority complex in the Eurofighter and its backers that often is on display here at the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, England.

In each afternoon's flying demonstrations, the Eurofighter is front and center, displaying its sleek lines, agility, and speed for throngs of spectators in attendance. Still, in published reports at the show this week Eurofighter supporters have had the need to toss verbal jabs at the Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-18.

Supporters point out their claim that the Eurofighter is much better at air-to-air combat than the F/A-18. That's certainly a strong possibility. The Typhoon and Hornet both are twin-engine fighters with air-to-ground capability, but the Eurofighter is 20 years younger than the F/A-18, which was designed in the late 1970s and first deployed with U.S. Navy squadrons in the early 1980s. Production started on the Eurofighter, on the other hand, in 1998.

A report this morning featured comments from Eurofighter test pilot Craig Penrice claiming that the Joint Strike Fighter isn't really a fighter at all, but instead is really an attack bomber with a stealthy low radar cross section.

Whether these claims are true or not, it's apparent that circumstances have gotten under the skin of the Eurofighter and its proponents, and the frustration is becoming palpable.

Frustrating times for the Eurofighter are far from over. There are other fighters in the international competitive mix, including those made in Russia, China, and Scandinavia. The latest wrinkle involves the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle -- the latest version of the venerable F-15 Eagle jet fighter redesigned with a low radar cross section, advanced avionics, and concealed weapons bays.

With the current competitive landscape in the global jet fighter landscape, it looks likely that the Eurofighter will continue to draw the short straw.

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