News from BAE Systems that Qatar is to firm up its order for 24 Eurofighter Typhoons by the end of the year appears — on face value — to be excellent news. The then-UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon signed a letter of intent with his counterpart Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah on September 17 in Doha, confirming long-held plans by the Gulf nation.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force has been open about its plans to dramatically expand its combat air force capabilities from its existing handful of Mirage 2000-5DDA/EDAs. In 2015, Qatar purchased 24 Dassault Rafales, with plans for 36 Boeing F-15QA (Qatar Advanced) being cemented in June 2017 under a $12bn deal. The new Typhoon deal will help Qatar to establish a formidable air arm in the region.
For the Typhoon, the deal is a direct government-to-government deal that is set to push production of the fighter at BAE’s Warton site out to 2024. BAE Systems is currently completing deliveries of UK Royal Air Force Tranche 3A aircraft, with deliveries to Oman of its 12 Typhoons now well under way. Kuwaiti aircraft will be assembled in Italy by Leonardo, but this should be complete by 2022. While the Qatar deal should help stretch the UK Typhoon production line out to 2024 — that could be the end of the line for Typhoon production. Long-hoped plans for a follow-on Saudi Arabia deal for more aircraft have failed to materialize.
There has been much talk of recent regarding the Luftwaffe’s plans to replace its Tornado IDS/ECR attack aircraft. While Airbus Defence and Space says a new sixth-generation European fighter is on the cards, the Luftwaffe appears to be leaning towards the F-35. Replacing the Tornado’s nuclear role is something the Typhoon just cannot do — the F-35 will be nuclear-capable. So, talk of Germany buying Trance 3B Typhoons to replace the Tornado would seem to be unfounded and the F-35 seems to be the most likely, and suitable option.
Eurofighters have been built in three Tranches — or batches.
Tranche 1 consisted of 148 aircraft: 33 for Germany, 28 for Italy, 19 for Spain and 53 for the UK, plus 15 for Austria, which emerged as a customer and received some aircraft that were diverted from other partner slots. The final Tranche 1 Typhoon was officially Luftwaffe aircraft serial 30+42, delivered to JG 74 at Neuburg on March 20, 2008; however, in reality it was actually Austrian aircraft serial 7L-WI delivered on July 15, 2008.
Tranche 2 production was agreed between Eurofighter GmbH and the partner nation customers on December 14, 2004. Tranche 2 was originally worth £13 billion ($25 billion) and covered the provision of 236 aircraft. However, with the UK securing the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) as the second export customer under Project Salam, the figures were adjusted. The UK, which brokered the 72-aircraft Saudi order, diverted 24 jets to supply an initial batch to the RSAF, and an additional 48 aircraft were added to the Tranche. The 24 diverted aircraft should have been added to the back end of Tranche 2 production for the UK but were not, instead being added to Tranche 3 and counted by the UK as part of its overall commitment. In the event, Tranche 2 took in 299 aircraft: 79 for Germany, 47 for Italy, 34 for Spain and 67 for the UK, plus the 72 for Saudi Arabia.
The 48 aircraft added to Tranche 2 under the Saudi deal were to have been assembled from kits in the Kingdom. However, by 2011 it became clear that the facility for the assembly in the Kingdom would not be viable and so BAE Systems secured a deal to assemble the remaining aircraft from early 2012. These are all now delivered.
The partner nations eventually agreed to split Tranche 3 into two parts, 3A and 3B. Tranche 3A was signed on July 31, 2009, and was for just 112 aircraft at an estimated €9 billion. This divided up as 30 for Germany, 21 for Italy, 21 for Spain and 40 for the UK.
Tranche 3B was due to be signed in 2011 for deliveries from 2016. However, Germany decided not to procure its 38 Tranche 3B aircraft, hoping to offload these aircraft on to an export customer, but this has not happened. Italy also abandoned its Tranche 3B plans in 2010, and the UK and Spain have followed suit. The focus has turned from partner nation requirements to the desire to export.
The UK’s 40 Typhoons in Tranche 3A comprise 16 extra aircraft, plus the 24 diverted to the RSAF from Tranche 2. This effectively takes the RAF allocation to a total of 160 aircraft: 53 Tranche 1, 67 Tranche 2 and 40 Tranche 3A. However, the RAF plans to retire most of its two-seat Tranche 1s by 2020.
Aside from the 72 Saudi Tranche 2 jets, the deals with Kuwait for 28 Tranche 3 jets, Oman for 12 and now Qatar for 24, underscore the importance of the Gulf region for the Typhoon. A requirement in Bahrain has fallen to the F-16V. Hopes for a deal with the United Arab Emirates failed to materialize for any of the budding candidates, and now an upgrade of its existing fleets would seem to have closed that door for now.
Thanks to the Qatar order, BAE Systems has stretched out Typhoon production for the partner nations and this buys time for a potential Saudi deal. Despite an upbeat message from Eurofighter on prospects closer to home in Belgium (the nuclear role is likely to play a part again here) and Finland, further business with Saudi Arabia would appear to represent the main potential for significant Typhoon sales in the future. Despite a requirement to replace its Tornado IDS, this is unlikely to materialize for several years to come. However, thanks to the UK’s Project Centurion that adds MBDA’s Storm Shadow, Meteor and the Brimstone anti-armor missile, it positions Typhoon ideally for this — mirroring plans in the UK with Typhoon ultimately replacing the Tornado GR4 in 2019.