Fighter fuels suppliers

UK aerospace companies supplying the Gripen jet fighter project are hoping for a summer of new deals with eastern European customers. A number of UK manufacturers are pinning their hopes on contracts with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

This follows Greece’s decision earlier this month to postpone its £6.29bn purchase of 60 Typhoon Eurofighters until after 2004, to save money for what it called ‘social enhancement programmes’ and the 2004 Olympics.

Greece does have an option for another 30 Typhoons.

‘We remain in negotiations with Greece,’ said Mike Peters of BAE. A Greek government spokesman stressed that the decision to buy Typhoon had not been scrapped but merely delayed.

After a long cabinet meeting Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis had said ‘more efficient control over expenditure will be implemented.’

Damaging delay

This order had been the only one outside the original four countries (Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain) that launched Eurofighter. Greece had been offered a similar membership arrangement within the group. Its delay was said by one Eurofighter source to be ‘merely a negotiating tactic’.

But Eurofighter is worried that Simitis used the term ‘fourth-generation fighter jet’ rather than ‘Eurofighter’ when talking about future fighter procurement decisions. Delaying the decision until after 2004 brings several other fighters into the competition, including the US Joint Strike Fighter, assuming it survives the Bush administration’s current review of major defence programmes, and the French Dassault Rafale.

BAE Systems is a 33% partner in Eurofighter, with Germany, France and Spain’s EADS (46%) and Italy’s AleniaAerospazio (21%).

However BAE does have other export hopes and says that together with Swedish partner Saab, in which it has a 35% stake, it is pitching for major export orders for the Saab/BAE systems Gripen fighter in eastern Europe.

UK suppliers to the Gripen project include BAE Systems, Flight Refuelling, Hymatic, Martin Baker, Lucas and Normalair Garrett.

Most of the UK content in Gripen is high-value engineering, heavily involved in enhancements to the Swedish standard aircraft for operations outside Scandinavia.The consortium’s Gripen is now in service with the Swedish Air Force and won its first export order in 1999 from South Africa for up to 28 aircraft. BAE and Saab are pitching Gripen as a rival to the latest Lockheed Martin F-16s.

Current Gripen sales targets are Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, all of which joined NATO in 1999. Gripen’s export version was developed ‘under BAE’s guidance with the needs of NATO standards very much in mind,’ says John Nielsen, head of communications for Saab/BAE Systems. BAE designed the wing.

A request by Poland for proposals to lease Swedish Air Force Gripens is expected in late April, following the request for information in January. Nielsen says this is for at least 16 NATO-interoperable Gripens, comprising 14 single seaters and two two-seaters. This may lead to a summer leasing contract and would be followed by a deal for up to 60 aircraft to enter service by 2012.

Negotiations on a Gripen sale to Hungary are still ongoing, despite the apparent victory of Lockheed Martin which is offering to lease F-16A and B fighters. Hungary has not decided to buy the F-16, Hungarian Minister of Economics Gyorgy Matolcsy said last month.

High-flying deals

‘The Hungarians are looking to reach a decision on which aircraft to lease in late April,’ Nielsen said last week. The lease would be for five years with delivery two years after contract signature and with the RAF giving NATO-standard training.

A Czech Gripen contract could be worth $2bn for as many as 36 aircraft for which offsets worth 150% of contract value would be offered. The F-16 may be out of the running after the US earlier this month condemned ‘unacceptable criteria’ in the tender documentation.