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.