The Eurofighter project was conceived in the 1970’s, as the need for a new type of fighter was clearly evident to the British, German, French, Italian and Spanish governments. However, it was not until 1983 that a need for the European Fighter Aircraft was outlined by these nations. Borne out of the cold war era, the idea was to provide European nations with a highly capable multi-role air combat fighter which had a reasonable amount of ground strike power.
In 1986 the Eurofighter project was itself born, with Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain the participating nations, and each nation sharing the workload of production between them based on future orders. In 1996 and 1997, all involved parties announced funding for the construction phase of the project. Britain is set to receive 232 fighters in total, Germany 140, Italy 121 and Spain 87. Deliveries to the RAF started in 2003 and formal activation of the Typhoon Squadron at RAF Coningsby occurred on the 1st Jul 2005.
The option exists to export the Eurofighter to third parties, which were not involved in its design or construction. This has already been done with Austria and Saudia Arabia, both of whom have placed orders and received initial shipments. What makes the Eurofighter attractive to these third parties is at least in part down to the sophisticated levels of equipment it possesses. Even something as basic as the pilot’s helmet is crammed with state of the art technology which allows the user to dominate the battlefield with speed and efficiency.
The helmet mounted sight projects flight path and targeting data onto a semi-reflective transparent visor on the helmet. On top of this, there is the capability for night vision output to be projected onto the visor, as well as optical motion tracking for missiles – i. e. the pilot directs the missile with his eyes. Each aircraft is programmed to recognise the voice of its pilot and will respond to around 200 words of command, which saves time in the air and reduces the number of tasks the pilot has to manually do.
In addition to radar, missile and laser warning receivers, the Eurofighter Typhoon can not only deploy chaff and flares to counter incoming missiles, it also possesses a frequency jammer to disrupt and disable them. Specific to the RAF typhoons is also a radar decoy, which can be towed from the jet. All movements of the throttle, stick and pedals are interpreted by an onboard computer, allowing for much more precise movements and a smooth, controlled flight, as well as ensuring the jet does not operate outside its stress limits.
There are various onboard backup systems to ensure that even if without the engine, the onboard electronics will all function normally, creating a very robust system. Perhaps one of the most impressive components of the Typhoon is the EuroJet 200 engine. Developed, like the Typhoon itself, by the four partner nations, the EJ200 can provide more than 60kN of dry thrust, allowing the Typhoon to reach speeds of Mach 2. 0 with reheat. The Eurofighter comes equipped with a vast array of weaponry, including the MauserWerke BK27 Cannon, which can fired a vast amount of different types of 27mm shell.
It has four weapon stations on each wing and five on the fuselage, able to mount a variety of short and long range of both surface-to-air and surface-to-ground missiles. This level of cutting edge technology, however, comes at a price. The high financial burden of this joint venture was shared by both the governments of the respective countries involved, and the industry involved in its production, including companies such as BAE Systems, Alenia Aeronautica and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company.
Initially envisaged to cost the British taxpayer ?7 billion and to have entered service by 1992 , it is needless to say that somewhere along the line, targets were not met. Even as early as 1992, the project was heavily over budget and heavily delayed, with all involved nations having to cut their initial orders due to the rapidly rising cost of an already expensive venture. In 1995 the cost to the British was estimated at ?14. 5 billion. By the time Typhoon entered service in 2003, the total cost was ?19 billion and was 54 months behind schedule.
Many are of the opinion that a conventional air-to-air fighter jet is in fact not needed in the modern day. Designed with an invasion of Europe by the Russians in mind, Typhoon would surely have effectively countered that threat, but on the modern battlefields of Afghanistan and formerly Iraq, some question if there is any justification in spending such vast amounts of public money on a resource which will likely not reach its full potential. The huge budget over-runs and delays of course only add fuel to this fire. Conclusively, this project has spiralled out of control.
There comes a point in every venture where too much money has already been invested and it would not be cost effective to pull out at that point, and this is no different. Of course, during its inception, nobody could possibly have known the stark contrast between conventional war-fighting at the time and the counter-insurgency operations which are run now. Perhaps with better management and budget allocation, the real cost of the project could have been identified at an earlier point and steps taken to rectify the situation.