Monthly Archives: November 2015

Duncan Sandys: Idiot or Cylon Infiltrator?

The casual student of history might be forgiven for wondering what happened to the British aircraft industry. During the Second World War (which they won) the British gave us the Spitfire, the Avro Lancaster, the Hawker Tempest, the De Havilland Mosquito, and many other great airplanes. Now, they can barely collaborate with Germany, Spain, and Italy to produce an overpriced, overdue, tactical fighter that fails to win orders or live up to its own ad copy. But hey, at least the Eurofighter can beat a Bugatti an a drag race. So what happened?

Two words: Duncan. Sandys.

In 1957 he took the British aircraft industry out back behind the shed and shot1 it.

He wrote a white paper on defense2 that made two points. First, the British aircraft industry had to reorganize in big conglomerates, and only those conglomerates would get future contracts. Goodbye all of the companies that competed with each other, hello giant companies that are slow moving and risk averse. Also, the contraction in number of companies means there are fewer design-level engineering positions to go around. One big company needs fewer designers than two small ones. Nothing like encouraging all of that war-won design expertise to seek other work.

But wait, it got worse. Sandys posited that manned military aircraft were obsolete. Missiles were the way of the future. Missiles were all that was needed to win wars. Missiles could intercept bombers, so they didn’t need to build fighters or interceptors. Missiles could deliver big nuclear warheads, so bombers weren’t needed to deliver nukes. And everyone3 knew the massive power of nuclear bombs had made conventional weapons obsolete. On the off chance such things were needed, missiles could deliver conventional warheads too. Missiles could do it all, and do it cheaper than aircraft without risk to aircrews. Sounds great! And Britain had basically no money after the war. They stuck with rationing well into the fifties, and that fancy empire had fallen apart. Goodbye aircraft, goodbye aircraft industry, hello missiles and big savings!

Of course, history had other ideas. Nobody wanted to blow the world to tiny bits, since that means they’d die too, so nobody ended up using all of their big ICBMs. Or their big bad atomic bombs4 for that matter. Time and again, nations turned to conventional bombs, and yes Virginia, manned aircraft to deliver them. In the Linebacker and Linebacker II campaigns, the USAF showed that B-52Ds could bring the pain to Hanoi like their fathers in the Mighty Eighth. If you were ever wondering what heavy bombers can do that tactical fighters can’t, it starts with carrying one hundred and eight 500 pound bombs, and it ends with blowing the living daylights out of everything in a box about five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. Yes, manned heavy bombers were darned useful in Vietnam. And this even during the Christmas Bombing of Hanoi, flying into the teeth of a massive air defense network supplied with the latest in Soviet-made hardware.

But it was not just the USAF that enjoyed success with manned aircraft. The Israeli air force has enjoyed great success with their fighters. In 1967, they executed a surprise attack that destroyed both the Syrian air force and the bigger Egyptian air force on the ground. Guderian may have been the first master of blitzkrieg, but he never did it as well as Rabin. In 1973, the Israelis had to deal with brand new SA-6 SAMs during the Yom Kippur war, and this reminded everyone that pilots, and by extension their manned aircraft are adaptable. Despite significant early losses, they managed to adapt and overcome, proving highly successful once again. Again in 1981, the Israelis succeeded in destroying the Osirak reactor in Iraq, despite the Iraqi air defense network.

Of course, Saddam’s embarrassment at this led him to beef up his air defenses again, but it would not stop (mostly) American airpower in 1991. Once again, B-52s were a big part of the strike package. Versatile manned aircraft carried improvised GBU-28 “Deep Throat” bombs to destroy heavily protected Iraqi aircraft shelters and command bunkers. And despite the large number of cruise missiles used, the opening blows were struck by Apache helicopters trashing an early warning radar, and only the stealthy F-117 was to operate over Baghdad.

Want more? Well, even England found a use for their old “obsolete” Vulcan bombers in the Falklands war. Operation Black Buck was a record setting 12,600 km bombing raid where Vulcans flew from Ascension Island to neutralize the runway on the Falkland islands and deny its use to the Argentinians. And during this time period, no Polaris missiles were used in anger.

It’s the versatility of manned aircraft during this time that has ensured their longevity. Lest you think other bombers are obsolete, all B-52Gs were destroyed as part of the START treaty. Even though they’ve been adapted for conventional missions and even close air support, they’re still an important enough strategic weapon to affect the nuclear calculus.

Of course, now people are at it again. Now drones are the future! Yay networking issues. Needless to say, keep pilots in the cockpit where they belong. Or else those terrorist Cylon bastards will win.

The only real Viper is a manned Viper. So say we all!

1.) Fun fact, people in England used to be able to own guns. Yes, real guns!
2.) He misspelled the topic, actually. One more thing he couldn’t get right.
3.) USAF included on this point. At least until Vietnam and “limited response”
4.) Singer Fred Kirby called them Hell Bombs in a 1950 song. Best name for them ever.

A Very Russian Thanksgiving Special

Fishbreath is away, so I thought I’d run something extra midweek. A Thanksgiving Special, if you will.

You may have noticed that I’m a pretty typical NATO guy. I quote STANAGs, and I like things that are made in America and Germany. Tactically, I’m usually more on the NATO side of things too. But today I’m going to talk Russian stuff. Specifically, I’m going to run down 10 Russian things that I actually like. I’m a lazy guy, so these are in no particular order, but I will call out things that I find more or less important.

And no, I’m not going to count them down, either.

1. Pecheneg Machine Gun
This is sort of a curious gun, but I like the concept. It’s a light machine gun in 7.62x54mm, i.e. a full-power rifle cartridge. Not only did the Russians make it very light, but they went to a lot of trouble to make sure that it’s operable by a single man. So it has a big heavy barrel with air-cooling fins rather than a quick change barrel. It is still belt fed, as is right and proper for a machine gun, because large drums are awkward and dumb. The bipod is not made to be removed easily. I like this because it’s a really nice weapon that’s focused on the use in smaller units. It doesn’t have a bunch of compromises to also work on a vehicle pintle or a tripod.

2. RPO-A Shmel
Another neat little weapon that comes from a love of fire and extensive experience in urban warfare. The RPO-A is a single-shot, disposable-tube 93mm rocket launcher that fires a rocket with a thermobaric warhead. This gets you a bunch of roasted enemies, plus a nasty pressure wave and the air sucked out of an enclosed space. Perfect for clearing caves or structures. It’s a little heavy at 11 kg, but it’s exactly the kind of emplacement-wrecker that would be useful to be stowed in your IFV. Range is significantly better than a traditional flamethrower, and it’s a lot safer for the user. This Thanksgiving, roast your turkey with a Shmel!

3. TOS-1 Buratino
Continuing in the theme of fire and thermobaric warheads, we come to the TOS-1. This is some serious artillery. It consists of a thirty round box launcher for 220mm rockets mounted on a converted T-72 chassis. The T-72 lacks a conventional turret, but maintains much of its armor. This is good, as the Buratino has rather short range (3.5 km for the standard version, 6 km for the improved version). The use case here is smashing fortifications or pockets of resistance. And it excels in that, since each rocket brings the same kind of firey overpressure death as the shmel in a much larger package. First combat use was demolishing Grozny. With a T-72 chassis, these can be reasonably expected to keep up with a fast-moving advance too.

4. 2S4 Tyulpan
The Russians love their artillery, and the Russians love their mortars. The Tyulpan is a super mortar. It may be slow, and it may take a crew of 9 with an awkward and slow reload process, but it lobs a big 240mm shell to smash fortifications. It has seen combat service in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and has proven very good at its job. This is an ideal weapon for blasting fixed emplacements into rubble. While airstrikes could do the job as well, the Russians recognize that airpower may be diverted to higher priority targets, and air superiority is not assured. Tyulpan can also do the smashing.

5. Su-27 Family
I’m using ‘family’ here because I’m lumping all of the heavily modified derivatives together. The Su-27 was originally supposed to be the “hi” part of a hi/lo mix, and two MiG-29s were supposed to be bought for every Su-27. But then the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Su-27’s range and carrying capacity made it an export success. The Sukhoi design bureau worked tirelessly to keep the Su-27 up to date, with the fanciest (imported) avionics and newer engines. They also made an excellent two seat version (the Su-30) and a dedicated bomber version (the Su-34). It’s a really amazing bit of upgrade and derivative success.

6. 9K330 Tor (SA-15 GAUNTLET)
This is the short range SAM system I wanted for the IADS write up, but Fishbreath wouldn’t let me have. It’s an all weather point-defense missile system, designed to shoot down small, low-RCS targets like cruise missiles. It has excellent range for a SHORAD, reaching out to 12 km and up to 6 km. Reaction time on the latest models is seven seconds, and it comes with a very good radar system. Plus, it’s mounted on a tank chassis, so it can go anywhere and accompany armored forces.

7. 3M-54 Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER)
Back in the day, the Soviets made up for their lack of carrier-borne naval aviation with antiship missiles. They were the first to develop these in a modern format, and they have continued to refine the concept. Where we in America are stuck with the lame Harpoon, the Russians have worked out the fantastic Klub. It’s got a range of over 600 km and has a subsonic cruise for better range performance plus a supersonic terminal attack profile. They’re designed to reach Mach 2.9 in the final stages of flight, plus perform aggressive maneuvers to make them harder to target. These are probably the most formidable antiship missiles at present, taking the title from another Russian missile, the P-270 Moskit (SS-N-22 SUNBURN).

8. Kh-101 (AS-15 KENT)
The Russians were very impressed with the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 ALCM. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, they made their own ‘Tomahawkski’ in the Kh-55. Like the Tomahawk, the Kh-55 has a range of about 2,500 km and comes in nuclear and conventional flavors. They’ve also improved the guidance system, with the latest versions reporting a CEP of 6-9 m. Unlike the west, the Russians did two good things with Tomahawkski. First, they standardized on it for their long-range land attack use across sea, air, and land platforms. The Tomahawk is strictly for naval use. B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s, drop the AGM-86, which is a completely different design, even though it has roughly the same characteristics. Second, the Russians super-sized it into the Kh-101, which is 7.45 m long, weighs 2,300 kg at launch, and has a range of 3,500 km. More range is good.

9. Tukhachevsky’s Echelons
This is a strategic one. I’m giving credit to Mikhail Tukachevsky, a brilliant operational theorist and victim of Stalin’s purges, even though his idea really only was workable much later. The idea was to group your forces in waves, with the first wave fixing the enemy in place and establishing weak points in the enemy’s lines, and the second wave smashing through the weak points and surging deep into the rear area with the help of the reserve as needed. War games figured that if nobody in NATO called out the tactical nuclear weapons, the Soviets could get to the Rhinei in about seven days. NATO had a lot of advanced weapon system designs in the late 80s built around defeating exactly this kind of fearsome armored attack.

10. The Kremlin
While the Kremlin is a pretty cool looking complex of buildings, I don’t mean this in the strictly literal sense. More in “The Kremlin” as in the overall leadership. While the Russians have a highly centralized control scheme, which I don’t always approve of, they play for keeps. Their rules of engagement generally make good tactical sense and they support their people. They do not throw their servicemen or their allies under the nearest bus to appease the fickle world opinion. I am indifferent as to the fate of al-Assad, but I like how Russia is supporting their ally in tough times. That is the point of an alliance is it not? To help each other when it is needed, not merely when it is convenient or popular to do so. They commit or don’t; there are no half-measures like the nonsense in Benghazi. And I’m very fond of their solution to the problem of urban warfare.

There you go. Ten Russian things I like. Have a happy Thanksgiving, eat plenty of turkey, drink lots of vodka, and watch hockey.

i) The exercise only ever looked to get to the Rhine, not beyond. Tactical nuclear weapons in Germany were American, and therefore under American control, and there was always the question if Americans would launch the nukes and trigger armageddon over Germany if the Soviets kept things conventional. To the west of the Rhine, however, lies France, who had her own nuclear arsenal in submarines, on Dassault bombers, and on le Plateau d’Albion. There was no doubt in the Pentagon, at Rand, or in the Kremlin that the French would play spoiler and use their nuclear weapons to induce armageddon rather than lose. So the tank armies always stopped at the Rhine.

Terminated Weapons: Eryx

It’s no secret that I’m a big armor guy. I like tanks and armored warfare, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to kill enemy tanks, which means analyzing antitank missiles. Time to tear one apart: the Franco-Canadian Eryx. It’s not very good. I don’t see the niche that it fills as being all that useful, and it doesn’t fill it well.

Eryx was designed to replace the short range LRAC F1 rocket launcher. The LRAC F1 is a light, reusable rocket launcher, and as such, is unguided. This means that it’s cheap and cheerful, and can be used against bunkers and other emplacements. But it’s range limited, since it’s really hard to engage a moving vehicle at any kind of distance. And it’s old, and since the rocket must be fully contained in the launch tube, it’s penetration is somewhat limited too.1 So the French wanted something new, with more range and armor penetrating power. They enlisted the Canadians to increase the orders and defer costs. The result is a weapon that fills an odd niche.

The Eryx is decidedly range limited: it’s only good to 600 meters. Compared to the Milan, which is older, the Eryx comes up short. Milan has a range of 2,000 meters, and an extended range variant is available that pushes the range to 3,000 meters. Milan penetrates more armor than Eryx, and has a better sighting system as well. Both Milan and Eryx are Saclos-guided, but Milan just does it better. And Eryx really doesn’t offer much in the way of weight savings, which leaves me confused. Why bother bringing it along? Why not just issue more Milans to your anti-tank teams? Unlike the LRAC F1, it’s not light enough to issue to the average infantry squat, unless they’re mechanized and have weight to spare, in which case the Milan is the better choice.

Of course, we have better missile systems than the Milan now, like the Javelin and the NLAW. Both of these come in around the same weight as Eryx, and are top attack, so they’re stupidly more effective. Javelin and NLAW are both fire and forget weapons too, which means the operators can leave the launch site after launching, since the launch signature of any antitank weapon insures it will be counterattacked immediately.

It might not seem fair to compare the SACLOS Eryx to the fancy new Javelin, but the Eryx was introduced in 1994, and Javelin was introduced in 1996. Unlike Milan, Eryx is not an old legacy system that we have significant warstocks of. It hasn’t been produced in large numbers. I’m not sure why France and Canada didn’t wait a little more and focus on getting a modern fire and forget ATGM system that was top-attack capable. It’s time to kill one of the few things the Peace Dividend failed to get rid of.

1.) A decent first order approximation for HEAT warhead penetration is that it’s proportional to the diameter of the warhead. This serves as a pretty good comparison metric, provided that we’re comparing warheads of the same generation/sophistication.

Je Suis Français

A tous mes amis français, mes pensées vont vers vous et je vous souhaites courage et force afin de traverser ces moments difficiles.

(Having exhausted my high school French, I’ll continue in English). I sometimes mock the French. Sometimes because they disagree with me and many of my fellow Americans, and sometimes because of their unique quirks. As I am sure they sometimes mock me for my unique Americanisms. But as an American, I owe a debt which can never be repaid to the Marquis de Lafayette. And I admire the French, for their pride, and their stubbornness. I see a lot of myself in them, even in the worst of times. Today, we are all French. I know nothing I say can make the pain go away. But I will say it anyway, and pray anyway, because fourteen years ago, you did the same for me and mine. Be strong, my friends. Our thoughts and prayers go with you.

And, Lafayette, I’ll continue to pay my debts.

Parvusimperator Reviews the Walther PPQ

Spectre premiers this week. What better time to talk about Walther’s fine modern pistol, the PPQ? In general, Mr. Bond arms himself with the Walther PPK, after a long and rather famous discussion between Ian Fleming and one Geoffrey Boothroyd.1 Yes, dear readers, there was a time when .32 ACP was considered to have plenty of stopping power. But that was then. I’m not very fond of the PPK, and don’t think it has any place other than possibly in my date’s thigh holster, if she’s wearing an evening gown. For a time, the Pierce Brosnan Bond used the P99, which is a right proper double stack service pistol in 9mm Parabellum.

The P99 is an interesting looking design, and is a double action semiautomatic pistol. It’s the direct predecessor of the PPQ, as it has a very similar shape, and shares magazines. Of course, being a double action design, the trigger isn’t good, and Walther made a couple of efforts to improve this. Interestingly, it’s striker fired, but Walther gave it that familiar double action feel.

Walther has a fine history of target weapons, in addition to service pistols. I first set about trying to learn pistol marksmanship seriously in a basement range, armed with an Olympic-grade Walther CPM-1. It’s still the nicest pistol trigger I’ve had the pleasure of firing. So Walther clearly knows how to make a quality trigger. One other historical note is that Walther had one of the earliest double action service pistols in the P38.

The PPQ is based on the latest models of the P99, the P99QA. It has the same sculpted grip, the same slide design, the same giant trigger. However, the PPQ has a somewhat different striker mechanism. It is no longer double action like a P99. Unlike a Glock, which has a partially cocked striker, the PPQ features a fully cocked striker. Since you don’t have to work against the striker spring, the trigger can be made very nice. Trigger travel distance is 0.4 in (9mm, conveniently enough), and has a sharp 0.1 inch reset. This is the shortest reset of any striker fired pistol around, and it’s very easy to feel. Trigger pull is very light, and there’s no ‘wall’ that you feel in a Glock trigger. So it’s pretty close to a rolling break. You can find that break point if you’re going slow, but it’s super easy to go right past it. This is the best trigger available on a striker fired pistol. But for the pretravel, it feels very 1911-like. And that’s probably the highest compliment I can pay.

The PPQ grip curves quite a bit. This looks a little strange at first, but it fits the hand really well. Again, it’s right up there with the 1911 in feeling very right. The 1911 does this with steel, wood, a single stack of .45 American Combat Pistol rounds, and a big slice of apple pie. The PPQ has to work with a double stack of 9mm rounds and a bunch of plastic. But those curves in the plastic mean the pistol fits your hand really well. Kinda like a certain fraulein I met on a trip to Europe not too long ago…

Moving on, the PPQ uses 15 round magazines. There’s also a factory extension available for +2 capacity. Since the model I got was a PPQ M2 Navy, Walther included one regular-baseplate 15 round magazine and one magazine with extender. The Navy model also comes with a factory threaded barrel. M2 denotes a switch from the lever release in the trigger guard to a traditional button style mag release in the handguard. The mag release catch is positioned well, and is easy to depress without being so raised that you’ll hit it accidentally. Much ink has been spilled on which mag release is better. I don’t really have a preference. I will say that the button is a little more familiar to me than the lever, and it’s more popular by far in America. Since it was in the case ready to go at the shop today, I didn’t agonize too much over the mag catch.

In my reviews of my Glock 17 and my M&P40, I mentioned market share. No getting around it, Walther doesn’t do a ton of marketing here in America, and as a result they don’t have a ton of market penetration. That said, the PPQ is popular enough that several of my favorite holster makers, including Dale Fricke, make holsters for it, and both 10-8 and Dawson make sights for it. Trijicon also makes their fine HDs for it. And my slide miller of choice, Mark Housel (L&M precision) will mill the slide for an RMR. So I should be set with whatever I need, though I don’t quite have the ubiquitous options that I had with Glock. I also have to suck up higher mag prices. Sizewise, the PPQ is about the same size as a Glock 19. Big enough to be very shootable, small enough to conceal easily. There’s also a long barrel version available.

How does she shoot? Great. Really, really great. That fabulous trigger really makes precise shots or fast shots easy. It makes up for less than perfect trigger control on the part of the user. My one objection is that the texture could be more aggressive, which seems to result in a flippy 9mm. Nothing that bearing down on the grip won’t cure, though. This is also a very early review. I may come to prefer the less texture; some professional shooters like a less grippy gun so they can correct a non-ideal grip from draw as they bring the gun up.

Bond should carry this gun, and not some lame pocket pistol. It’s that good. Accurate, fits nicely in the hand, conceals easily. It really works with the shooter to get great results.

1.) Fleming originally thought fit to equip Bond with a Beretta 418, a .25 ACP pocket pistol that you probably never heard of. It is a phenomenally wussy handgun, and I shall waste no more characters discussing it.

Four of the oldest warships in active service, as of November 2015

I read earlier today that the US Navy’s new SSBN class is expected to serve until the 2080s. I wondered whether that was even remotely plausible. As American ships go, USS Kitty Hawk had a good run of it, hitting almost 50 years. I couldn’t find any American examples with a longer service life than that in commission and in active service today, but it turns out there are some out there. Here are four of the oldest warships in active service, by original commissioning date.

#3 – BAP Almirante Grau, formerly De Ruyter, Dutch-built cruiser in Peruvian service, November 18, 1953
Almirante Grau was laid down in 1939 by the Dutch, and launched in 1941 by the Nazis, so by that standard, she is indeed the oldest actual warship on this list. She’s also the most functional: a major refit between 1985 and 1988 gave her then-modern sensors and decoys, Otomat AShMs, and OTO Melara rapid-fire guns in place of her old Bofors mounts.

#2 – ROCS Hai Shih, formerly USS Cutlass, Tench-class submarine in Taiwanese service, March 17, 1945
Deserving of extra acclaim because she’s apparently still a reliably-submersible submarine built in the closing stages of the Second World War, she saw an actual war patrol in her days as Cutlass. She was transferred to the Taiwanese Navy in 1973, and has been in active service since. Her sister ship, ROCS Hai Pao, was commissioned in 1946 and transferred in 1976. They serve primarily as training ships and aggressors, and, incredibly, are still cleared to submerge 70 years after their commissioning.

#1 – BRP Raja Humabon, formerly USS Atherton, Cannon-class destroyer escort in Philippine service, July 26, 1943
The Philippine Navy is the oldest navy, on average, in the world; seven members of the Rizal and Miguel Malvar classes also date to before Hai Shih, and the Philippine Navy had two more Cannon-class ships before storms and whatnot sank them. Rajah Humabon is rather light on capabilities these days. Her ASW fit was removed due to lack of spare parts for Second World War-era sonars and depth charges; her gun director is no longer present; her weapons fit is exactly the same otherwise as in 1943.

Honorable Mention – U17 Parnaíba, Brazilian river monitor, March 9, 1938
After a brief huddle with parvusimperator, we decided that a river monitor is not a real warship, and doesn’t count. That said, Parnaíba is the oldest armed ship I was able to find in service with a navy, and deserves a spot on the list. She was commissioned before the next-oldest ship on the list, Almirante Grau, was laid down. She’s also definitively the oldest warship in service built by a yard in the country in which she currently serves, likely by at least two decades.

There you have it. A 65-year service life, as the Navy is proposing for the SSBN(X)-class, isn’t impossible, but it does seem highly suspect. All of these vessels were state of the art on their construction; the only one I wouldn’t instantly designate for scrapping is the Almirante Grau, and even with its modernizations, it probably isn’t worth the upkeep. 65 years from now, will the Navy’s new boomer be any different?

Terminated Weapons: Eurofighter

Yes, dear readers, I look at European defense procurement in addition to American procurement. And I weep for Europe. Or, I would, were I an emotional pansy and capable of shedding tears. Really though, it’s hilariously bad. For those of you who have been following the Joint Strike Fighter project trying to get three armed services to agree on things, and thought to yourself “Gee, self. This is a clusterfuck. Joint projects suck. They’re stupid. No one could possibly be worse at this then us silly Americans,” you’d be wrong. A quick hop across the pond tells us that if the JSF is a clusterfuck, the Eurofighter, is a horrific, colossal goatfuck. It’s a shining example of What Not To Do, because if you thought that three armed services of one nation had a bunch of stupid ego problems and annoying bureaucracies, you haven’t seen anything yet. National pride thrice over and three constituencies makes those problems even worse.

Look upon the project and despair. This project arose in the 80s, when the nations of Western Europe, specifically the UK, France, Germany, and Italy thought they needed a new fighter. And they were correct! They did need a new fighter. We’re going to single out France here for a second. No, it’s not because I hate them. I do like the French. And alone among these nations, the French had a native aircraft manufacturer with fighter aircraft experience. Dassault. Dassault had (and still has) plenty of export success, especially for a country that isn’t as politically as well-heeled as the United States or the Soviet Union. Dassault makes good things. And, some work-sharing disputes eventually convinced France to make the decision to go it alone. This would result in the phenomenal Rafale, which we’ll revisit more later. Spoiler alert: French pride saved them an awful lot of trouble.

Okay, so now there were three. Germany, who had built such fabulous fighters as the Messerschmitt 109 and 262, had lost most of its aircraft manufacturing capability after the war. It certainly hadn’t made any fighter aircraft since. Eventually, Messerchmitt Bolkow Blohm would produce some interesting experimental designs. But nothing properly military. They did collaborate with the British and some others in the Panavia Tornado, which will be the subject of another post. Yes, they collaborated with the British who had enforced all those silly disarmament provisions. But wait, it gets worse. Britain was victorious after the war. They made excellent fighters, like the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Tempest. Then the liberals got ahold of things. Those idiots decided that everything would be better if all of those evil companies merged into a national firm. Goodbye talented designers, go do something else with your lives. They had made a few jet fighters into the 50s, but that was it. As for the Italians, they never had an aircraft industry worth talking about.

We should also deal with the elephant in the room: ‘Murica. This project was ostensibly designed to hold on to what little fighter design experience remained in Europe. Had this been true, everyone would have waited for Dassault to make something cool and then bought those. But really, this was about Germany, England, Spain, and some others making their own fighters. Because if they were willing to by COTS, they could have just bought some F-16s or F/A-18s. The Hornet in particular stands out as being an almost perfect match for the requirements. The avionics on 80s-vintage Hornets were significantly better than those on the Viper. Lack of range for either wasn’t an issue, as Europe is an itty bitty place, and they already had Tornadoes for the deep-strike mission. But neither the Hornet nor the Viper was made in Europe, so such sensible ideas of getting a fighter right away to counter those pesky new Sukhois wasn’t going to be a thing. I’m totally serious here. Just as the Eurofighter design team was getting serious about working without the departed French in 1986, the Hornet was seeing combat when the US Navy was bombing Libya. They were right there, on the shelf, with a competitive price tag, but it was not to be.

Of course, the French were working on their design. They only had one parliament to appease, and despite the reduced orders and slowed timelines from that pesky fall of the Soviet Union they got their fighter prototype in the air ten years before the Eurofighter bunch did. And it’s easy to see why. Setting up complicated work-sharing agreements and having to agree on design goals is hard. It leads to lots of silly arguments. It leads to delays. It leads to friction when the biggest partner wants to leave (Looking at you FRG). Oh, and it’s hard to rebuild that fighter design experience once you’ve lost it.

What do we have, now that the Eurofighter flies? Well, we have a very pretty fighter. But it doesn’t really do anything it’s competitors don’t, as we’ve seen in the Fighter Procurement pieces I’ve written. It’s also very expensive. It’s about as expensive as the F-35, but isn’t properly stealthy1 like the F-35. Worse, procurement requires approval by three governments. Those three governments make for more problems when it comes to new features, because Europeans don’t spend real money on defense and the Germans are pansies, and spend even less on defense. So the Eurofighter stands alone amongst modern fighters in not having an AESA radar option ready to go. It is getting limited integration with guided bombs. It’s not carrier capable. It’s defensive suite has been gutted by cuts thanks to the Germans. Oh, and the RAF kicked around the notion of deleting the internal gun. Buyers have shied away accordingly. Why buy something that the builders aren’t going to support with upgrades? Everyone else is doing a good job of keeping their designs upgraded. Everyone else has cool optional extras like conformal fuel tanks. The Eurofighter has the options list of a Yugo.

So the Eurofighter Typhoon was a bad idea from the beginning and it’s a bad idea now. It’s overpriced, underfeatured, and overpoliticized. Buy something else.

1.) If you are a pedantic moron and wish to point out that the Eurofighter is a “low observability design,” shut up and go eat some paste. Marketing guys can write what they like. The Eurofighter does not have radar absorbent coatings, it doesn’t have provision for internal weapons carriage, and it doesn’t exhibit aligned angular surfaces. Therefore, it isn’t stealthy. It may have design elements to reduce it’s radar signature, but so does the Avro Vulcan, and that’s clearly not a stealth bomber.