Export orders for the Eurofighter Typhoon could suffer as delays to the programme threaten to push more countries into buying the US Joint Strike Fighter, experts have warned
Under the programme agreement the RAF is due to receive its first Eurofighters in June, but it emerged this week that this deadline may be slipping.
The Eurofighter programme has been hit by a number of extensive delays since the concept was first launched in 1984. Further delays to the completion of the project could deter countries from buying the aircraft, and encourage them to order JSFs instead, said Andrew Brookes, aerospace analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
‘The worry is that subsequent export orders could be put into question if it is not seen to be running on schedule. It will be difficult for salespeople to argue it is a world-beater while news is coming out that it has been delayed again.’The longer customers are kept waiting for the aircraft to be ready, the more they will decide to hold out for the JSF, he said.
The Dutch government is believed to have chosen JSF over Eurofighter for a $3bn (£2.1bn) contract for 100 aircraft. And the Belgian government, which had previously planned to keep its small fleet of 72 F-16s flying until at least 2015, is now expected to follow the Dutch decision, said Edward Foster, head of the European security programme at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. ‘This may well be an indication of how successful JSF can be at muscling in on the European markets,’ he said.
If both countries place firm orders for JSFs, it will be seen as a psychological setback for Eurofighter. ‘If they are not successful in exporting Eurofighter within Europe, it might clip their wings for export beyond the continent. It is something countries such as those in the Middle East will take account of,’ he said.
Labour MP Bruce George, chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said that Eurofighter was a sophisticated piece of machinery, and in such complex projects the unexpected was bound to happen. ‘When you are producing an aircraft in four countries, with thousands of companies involved, management of the programme is far from simple. But the worst is over, and we are moving towards production.’
Any further delays would obviously be unhelpful, but the aircraft was likely to have a good market, he said.
Reports this week suggested the government is to withhold part of its payments for the Eurofighter if delivery is delayed. An MoD spokesman said it still expected to receive the first two Eurofighters in June, but projects of this size and complexity carry many risks. In the event of delays the MoD would be entitled to liquidated damages, he said.
A spokesman for BAE Systems dismissed the claims, and said the MoD had been told the project was still on schedule.
BAE is a partner with Lockheed Martin on the JSF programme, and is involved in development and manufacture of the Eurofighter.