The Eurofighter Typhoon

v1.0.0 / 01 aug 02 / greg goebel / public domain

* In the last decades of the Cold War, most of the major players in the drama began programs to develop "fourth generation" air-superiority fighter aircraft. As the cost of such a leading-edge machine was tremendous, a number of European nations decided to collaborate on development of what would become known as the "European Fighter Aircraft", or simply "Eurofighter".

The end of the Cold War meant that the need for a fourth-generation fighter was not as great as it had been, but the Eurofighter program continued, if with delays and changes in direction, and Europe's premier fighter is now going into service. This document provides a short history of the Eurofighter.



* In the late 1970s, a number of European nations were confronted with the fact that their fighter forces were beginning to seem outdated in the face of new American machines, such as the F-15 and F-16, and more to the point new Soviet fighter designs, such as the MiG-29 and Su-27. These hot new machines would certainly be followed by improved designs, and so the Europeans had to keep pace.

By 1977, the West Germans were considering a replacement for their Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, while the the French were thinking about a replacement for their SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighters, and the British were interested in a replacement for both their Jaguars and British Aerospace (BAE) Harriers. The British wanted their replacement aircraft to be low-cost, but also to have much better air-to-air combat capabilities than the Jaguar or Harrier. In addition, the British wanted "jump-jet" capabilities like those of the Harrier, or at least good short / rough field performance.

The British had become used to working with international collaborations to develop new combat aircraft, and cast about for partners. In the meantime, the British also conducted a series of small-scale technology-demonstration programs to help develop useful subsystems for such a new aircraft.

* The British rethought their priorities after analysis showed their requirements were too ambitious for a single aircraft. They then specified two different aircraft, including a Jaguar replacement with good air-to-air combat capabilities, designated the "Air Staff Target (AST) 403"; and a short-takeoff Harrier replacement, designated the "AST 409".

The AST 409 requirement would lead to purchase of the improved US-designed Harrier II and, eventually, towards the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but that is another story. The AST 403 specification led BAE through a number of design concepts that congealed on the "P.106B", a lightweight fighter along the lines of the modern Swedish SAAB JAS-39 Gripen.

In the meantime, Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Bohm (MBB) in Germany was considering a number of different concepts for an air-superiority fighter under the Luftwaffe's "Taktisches Kampfflugzeur 1990 (TKF-90 / Tactical Combat Aircraft 1990)" requirement. BAE and MBB then began to discuss a collaboration, resulting in 1979 in a proposed design for a "European Collaborative Fighter (ECF)", later the "European Combat Aircraft (ECA)". The ECA resembled the MBB TKF-90 design.

Dassault was also generating a number of advanced fighter designs, but did little or nothing to tell anyone else about them, and the French position was that if they were going to be in an international collaboration, they would be in the driver's seat. The French attitude led to the collapse of intergovernmental talks on collaboration in 1980. The British government cancelled AST 403 in 1981, while the West German government showed no interest in funding development of the TKF-90.

That might have been the end of the whole thing, but BAE management realized that European air forces would need a new fighter sooner or later, and pressed on. BAE had been working on an export fighter-bomber design, the "P.110", basically a follow-on from the P.106B concept with ECF influence, but couldn't find a buyer to fund production.

However, BAE was able to inspire the Anglo-German-Italian "Panavia" consortium, which had built the Tornado, to collaborate on another machine, the "Agile Combat Aircraft (ACA)", which was based on TKF-90 and P.110 concepts. The Italians were very interested in the ACA as they were in great need of a replacement for their F-104 Starfighters. A mockup of the ACA was displayed at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK in 1982 and at the Paris Air Show in 1983.

As an answer to the ACA initiative, the French committed to develop a fourth-generation fighter of their own, under the "Avion de Combate Experimentale (ACX)" program, which would become the Dassault Rafale. The British were perfectly happy to have the French go their own way, since the French had shown a clear tendency to short-change the British in other aircraft collaborations, such as the Jaguar. The West German government, however, was very keen on political alignment with the French and had misgivings about the ACA program.

In any case, ACA went ahead for the moment, with plans generated for the production of two demonstrators under the "Experimental Aircraft Programme (EAP)". If building a new fighter seemed to be taking time, production of acronyms was at full steam. On 26 May 1983, the British Ministry of Defense awarded BAE and Aeritalia, the Italian partner, a contract for one of the EAPs, and the expectation was that the Germans would quickly commit to construction of the second demonstrator.



* MBB wanted to go ahead with the second demonstrator, but the West German government had no interest in funding it. They didn't want to antagonize the French by throwing their lot in with the British and Italians; similarly did not want to antagonize the British and Italians by throwing in with the French; and decided that doing nothing was the best option for the moment.

That effectively killed the ACA program as such, but BAE courageously went ahead with the construction of their EAP demonstrator. The demonstrator was built with help from Aeritalia and some low-key assistance from MBB, which was still interested in the project even if the West German government wasn't keen on it.

As it emerged, the EAP demonstrator featured the cranked-delta / canard configuration of the various concepts that led up to it, but differed from them in having a single tailfin instead of twin tailfins. This was because MBB had been expected to provide the rear fuselage elements of the EAP, but when their funding was cut BAE simply used the rear section of a Tornado, including the tailfin. The EAP also used the Tornado's twin TurboUnion RB.199 turbofan engines. The intakes were placed under the belly, and had a hinged panel on the lower lip that could be dropped open to ensure airflow at high angles of attack.

This rear section was made mostly of aircraft alloys, but the rest was mostly graphite-epoxy composite assemblies, leading jokers to call it the "plastic plane". It also incorporated a quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (FCS), which was a necessity as the EAP demonstrator was "dynamically unstable", meaning it would quickly go out of control unless computers performed tiny control adjustments at all times. Dynamic instability helped give the aircraft high agility, though it required many lines of tricky software.

The EAP demonstrator featured a "glass cockpit", with three Smiths Industries "multifunction displays (MFDs)" using color picture tubes; a GEC-Marconi wide-angle "head-up display (HUD)"; and center-mounted "hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS)" controls. BAE also included a voice-warning system and the company also tinkered with a "direct voice input (DVI)" command system with the aircraft. Test pilots had been part of the design team for the cockpit layout, and the result was regarded as outstanding.

The EAP demonstrator performed its first flight on 8 August 1986 and conducted 259 test flights up to its retirement on 1 May 1991. Pilots were wildly enthusiastic about the machine, one of them saying: "It goes like a ferret with a firework up its bum!" It was fast, it was agile, and it was easy to fly.

There was comment at the time and afterward that Britain should have simply picked up the EAP demonstrator and run with it, and in fact BAE had been promoting an operational fighter that leveraged off the demonstrator to the British Royal Air Force (RAF). However, it simply wasn't going to happen. The British government made it perfectly clear they didn't want to pick up the entire tab for a new fighter, and so any such new aircraft would have to be produced by an international collaboration.

In fact, such discussions had led to decisions on collaboration even before the first flight of the EAP demonstrator. In hindsight, it remains an open question that is very difficult to answer as to whether Britain would have been better off to go it alone.



* Beginning in late 1983, the air staffs of five European nations -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain -- began to work together to define specifications for a common fourth-generation fighter aircraft, to go into service in the mid-1990s.

By early 1985, Britain, West Germany, Italy, and Spain had settled on a design along the lines of the EAP demonstrator, in construction at the time, while the French were insisting on an aircraft derived from the "Rafale A" demonstrator. The French negotiating position was just as inflexible as it had been before: France would be in the driver's seat, the aircraft would be a French design, built by a consortium with Dassault at the head and France as the absolute majority partner. Dassault would essentially parcel out such subcontracts as deemed necessary.

The position was such a non-starter that an official involved with the matter commented: "One wonders what France would have demanded had it not been interested in collaboration and had it simply wanted to put us off the idea." Over the course of the last half of 1985, the French and the other nations involved in the discussions parted ways, though the West Germans were not happy about dropping the French from the proposed partnership.

Although Britain and Spain wanted a multirole fighter, West Germany and Italy were only interested in an air-superiority machine. The group managed to hammer out their differences, with a general agreement on specifications reached in December 1985. A formal specification for the "EFA (European Fighter Aircraft)" was released in September 1987, with production expected to begin in 1992. As it turned out, this was short of the mark by a decade.

* The EFA was focused on air superiority, but could perform ground attack as a secondary mission. It was to have high performance, be highly maneuverable, and have docile handling characteristics. It was also to have a low radar cross section (RCS) and be capable of operating from short forward airstrips. A formal development contract was awarded to the "Eurofighter" consortium on 23 November 1988, specifying delivery of eight prototypes.

The principal manufacturers in the consortium were, in order of workshare: BAE Systems of the UK (33%); MBB (later DASA) of Germany (33%), Aeritalia (later Alenia) of Italy (21%); and CASA of Spain (13%). DASA and CASA are now part of the EADS aerospace group.

The "EJ.200" engine for the new fighter was to be developed by the parallel "EuroJet" group, which includes Rolls-Royce, MTU, Fiat Avio, and SENER (now ITP) of Spain. The EJ.200 is an evolution of the RB.199, derived from the Rolls-Royce "XG40" demonstrator engine built in the early days of the Eurofighter program. The EJ.200 was to provide better performance and 30% fewer parts than the RB.199.

Despite these decisions, the program remained muddled. The West Germans raised a number of serious objections, for example proposing that the new fighter use an improved version of the AN/APG-65 radar used on the US F/A-18 Hornet instead of a European solution, and suggesting for reasons nobody else could understand that early development aircraft use General Electric F404 engines instead of the TurboUnion RB.199. The manufacturers involved with the program didn't begin "cutting metal" for the initial prototypes until 1989.

By 1991, everything finally seemed to be going smoothly, leading a BAE official to comment: "We are now comfortable in bed with Italy, Spain, and even Germany. It's not a bed of roses, but France isn't even in the boudoir, so we have a sporting chance of making it work."

* Then everything went to hell again. The Cold War was over, Germany was reunited. The threat that the Eurofighter had been originally intended to meet had evaporated, though as it would turn out new threats would raise their ugly heads only too soon, and German reunification was proving extremely expensive. 1992 was an election year in Germany and many of the voters were pacifistic, with a strong dislike of weapons programs. The Eurofighter became politically controversial, with the German government teetering on the edge of pulling out of the project.

The Germans raised such a fuss, forcing the consortium to go in circles to find cost-saving design changes for the aircraft, that the other partners seriously considered letting them go without complaint. However, though German politicians were making noises against the Eurofighter, the Luftwaffe insisted that they needed the aircraft and that it was the aircraft they needed.

In fact, although studies were performed to investigate purchase of a more-or-less "off the shelf" solution for the Luftwaffe, covering the range from the McDonnell Douglas F-15 to the SAAB Gripen to the Mikoyan MiG-29, since the Eurofighter had been originally designed to meet the specifications of the air forces of the member nations, the studies demonstrated that no other existing aircraft was as cost-effective. Attempts to define a cheap-and-dirty version of the Eurofighter led to a similar result: a cheaper machine could be built, but it wouldn't do the job.

The insistence of the British and Spanish on a multirole capability was important to the machine's survival. The fall of the Soviet Union greatly changed the nature of the challenge faced by European nations from a hostile Communist monolith to the east, to unpredictable brushfire conflicts that could spring up almost anywhere. A multirole Eurofighter fit the new challenges well.

* In the end, after a great deal of frustration and bitter feelings, Germany stayed in the group. The fighter was redefined somewhat to decrease costs in principle, with some high-budget elements made optional, but the general belief was that the whole squabble had led to a more expensive aircraft and the "savings" were merely political smoke-and-mirrors.

The redefined aircraft was redesignated the "Eurofighter EF2000" as a means of glossing over the fact that the original plan envisioned that it would already be in production by 1992. The delays were painful to the Italians, who desperately needed a replacement for their Starfighters, and as an interim solution they leased 24 Tornado F.3 interceptors from the Panavia group.

The dust settled and work on the prototypes went ahead. The first prototype Eurofighter, designated "DA1", finally flew on 27 March 1994. That prototype was built by DASA, wore Luftwaffe markings, and was flown by German pilot Peter Weger from an airfield at Manching, Germany. There were no doubt some who questioned the justice of letting the Germans have the honor of the first flight, all the more so because the German government continued to short-change the program, not committing to proper funding until 1995, and continuing to waffle for two more years after that.

However, it made sense in terms of keeping a happy home, and in any case both MBB / DASA and the Luftwaffe had been made at least as miserable as everyone else. In any case, the Germans didn't give much fanfare to the initial flight, possibly on the judgement that there was no sense in antagonizing their partners further.



* The eight prototypes originally planned were built, including:

The formal decision to go ahead with production was made in 1997, with production contracts awarded in 1998. In September 1998, the Eurofighter organization announced the aircraft's name of "Typhoon". This name was assigned for export aircraft, and the organization stressed that member nations would be free to name it what they liked. However, Typhoon was a good choice for a name, since it was assigned to historically important British and German aircraft, and the word itself is derived from Japanese and so reflects no linguistic bias among the Eurofighter group member nations.

As the aircraft was still not in production, much less operational service, by the year 2000, the various factions involved in the effort gradually began to refer to the aircraft as simply the "Eurofighter" and not the "Eurofighter EF2000". Despite all the problems and delays -- which were not unique to the Eurofighter among the fourth-generation fighter efforts, and to an extent were inevitable in a multinational collaboration -- the result appears to be no disappointment.

* The Eurofighter is a canard aircraft, powered by twin Eurojet EJ.200 two-spool afterburning turbofans, with the intakes on the belly of the aircraft under the cockpit. This position helps ensure airflow at high angles of attack. The arrangement is similar to that used on the EAP demonstrator, except that the Eurofighter's intakes curve up against the belly while the EAP demonstrator's intakes had a straight rectangular cross-section. It appears the hinged lower lip used in the EAP demonstrator was not carried over to the Eurofighter.

Each EJ.200 turbofan provides 6,120 kilograms (13,490 lbs) dry thrust and 9,185 kilograms (20,250 lbs) afterburning thrust. The first two prototypes were initially powered by RB.199 engines. The Eurofighter is also fitted with an auxiliary power unit (APU) for self-starting and ground power.

Unlike the EAP demonstrator, which had a compound-delta wing, the Eurofighter has a simpler cropped-delta wing. The trailing edge is straight and features full-span split "flaperons (flap-ailerons)". There are small strakes on the fuselage below the cockpit and above and behind the canard fins to make sure that airflow over the wing remains effective at high angles of attack.

The canard fins are of "all-moving" configuration and have a strong anhedral. The straight-edged tailfin also differs from the curved Tornado tailfin used on the EAP demonstrator. There is a large dorsal airbrake behind the cockpit.

The landing gear features a nosewheel mounted under the air intakes and retracting backwards, and main gear pivoting from the wings to retract into the fuselage. All gear feature single wheels. A brake parachute is stored in a housing at the base of the tail. There is a retractable inflight refueling probe on the right side of the nose.

The airframe is built of about 50% composite materials by weight and about 70% by surface area, with substantial use of titanium and lithium-aluminum alloys elsewhere. Although comparable in dimensions to the Tornado, the Eurofighter has an empty weight only about 70% as great, while being more capable in almost all regards. The advanced construction techniques also reduces the parts count of the airframe, with the Eurofighter having about 16,000 structural elements to 36,000 for the Tornado.

While the Eurofighter has a greater RCS than the US F-22 or F-35, radar-absorbent material is used in the inlets and around the cockpit, and the composite assemblies were designed with an eye towards reducing RCS.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                10.95 meters        35 feet 11 inches
   length                  15.96 meters        52 feet 4 inches
   height                  5.28 meters         17 feet 4 inches

   empty weight            10,995 kilograms    24,245 pounds
   loaded weight           23,000 kilograms    50,715 pounds

   max speed at altitude   Mach 2+
   service ceiling         16,765 meters       55,000 feet
   takeoff run             700 meters          2,300 feet
   combat radius           1,390 kilometers    865 MI / 750 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Of course, the Eurofighter features a modern "glass cockpit", with color flat-panel MFDs built by Smiths Industries; a wide-angle HUD built by GEC-Marconi; and HOTAS flight controls. The pilot sits on a Martin-Baker Mark 16A "zero-zero (zero altitude, zero speed escape)" ejection seat, under a frameless clamshell canopy. The back-seater in the two-seat version features the same control layout as the pilot, but with a "HUD repeater" instead of a HUD, and of course uses the same type of ejection seat.

The Eurofighter has a built-in 27-millimeter Mauser cannon on the right side of the belly of the aircraft, with 150 rounds of ammunition. The aircraft has four semi-recessed fuselage stations for air-to-air missiles (AAMs), plus a centerline stores pylon and four stores pylons under each wing, for a total of nine stores pylons. The centerline pylon and a single pylon under each wing are "wet", permitting carriage of external fuel tanks.

Maximum external stores load is 8,000 kilograms (17,640 pounds). Possible stores include:

The Eurofighter's combat avionics are built around the ECR-90 pulse-Doppler multimode radar. This radar was selected after a long debate with the Germans on whether to use a European radar design or an improved version of the US Hughes AN/APG-65. The ECR-90 was developed by the "EuroRadar" team, led by GEC Ferranti and including FIAR of Italy and Inisel of Spain.

The ECR.90 is basically an improved version of the Ferranti "Blue Vixen" radar fitted to the BAE Sea Harrier FA.2. The ECR.90's capabilities include:

The radar is complemented by an "infrared search and track / forward-looking infrared (IRST / FLIR)" sensor, mounted just to the left of the front of the cockpit. This sensor is designated the "Passive Infra-Red Airborne Tracking Equipment (PIRATE)" and is a very capable piece of gear. As an IRST, it can scan while tracking and ranging multiple targets, and as a FLIR, it provides a selectable wide-angle or narrow-angle field of view, with the optics directed by the pilot's helmet-mounted sight.

The Eurofighter includes a "Defensive Aids Sub-System (DASS)" built by the "EuroDASS" consortium of GEC-Marconi, Elettronica of Italy, and Indra of Spain. The Germans pulled out of the consortium due to significant cost increases in DASS, and for a time Luftwaffe Eurofighters weren't even going to have a countermeasures suite. This was a ridiculously impractical decision, driven entirely by politics, and the Germans rejoined in 2001.

As with PIRATE, a complete DASS will not be available for early production. DASS will feature in full development threat-warning systems and active countermeasures, and it will be fully automated, allowing it to detect, identify, and prioritize threats, as well as take countermeasures automatically.

DASS is fully intregrated with the Eurofighter's avionics systems. DASS elements include:

All avionics are integrated by six digital buses, including two fiber-optic buses. The digital flight control system is being designed in levels, with early Eurofighters featuring simple functionality, with improved functionality to be added in stages.



* The Eurofighter is now going into production. The first production standard aircraft, a two-seater, performed its initial flight on 5 April 2002, and was followed within days by two more production aircraft. Initial service deliveries are expected in the second half of the year.

At present, 148 Eurofighters are on order, and current plans envision the production of 620 aircraft:

Although each nation's Eurofighters will be delivered from a different manufacturer, in fact the construction of sub-assemblies is parceled out between the different companies. Each will perform final assembly on elements provided by the whole. The sub-assemblies are designed in a modular fashion to ensure that they can be pieced together with relative ease.

60 more Eurofighters are now being considered for the "big four" air forces, and Greece is now completing a deal for 60 Eurofighters, with an option for 30 more. The Dutch were also considering the Eurofighter, but went with the US F-35 instead, and the Eurofighter also lost out in a South Korean competition against the Boeing F-15K. However, in the summer of 2002, Austria began contract negotiations to obtain 24 Eurofighters to replace their SAAB J35 Draken fighter, and a number of other potential deals are in the pipeline.

* There will be three Eurofighter production phases or "tranches":

There will be almost certainly upgrades from one tranche to the next, though the numbers of aircraft involved and the extent to which it will be done is unclear at present.

The Eurofighter consortium has proposed implementing an "International Weapon System Support System (IWSSS)" to track weapon system and software changes, ensuring that the four nations can leverage off each other's qualification of weapons, and not build up incompatibilities over time.

Technical improvements are being planned or considered. Work is underway to improve the ground-observation capabilities of the ECR-90 radar, and an adaptive electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is under development, with delivery no earlier than 2010. EuroJet is working on improvements to the EJ.200 engine, focusing on weight reduction with thrust and reliability improvements, as well as thrust-vectoring. The thrust-vectoring system is in testing now, and offers thrust deflection angles of up to 23.5 degrees.

Other possible features are 2,000-liter (528 US gallon) drop tanks or conformal fuel tanks; "smart" multiple stores racks; and a wide range of other avionics improvements. It is unclear if these features will be part of some EOC defined under Tranche 3, or will be incorporated into a later production definition. It is clear that since the Eurofighter will remain in service to at least 2040, it is in the early stages of a long process of evolution.



* Now that the various Western fourth-generation fighters are now coming online, the verbal "dogfight" over which is best has reached something of a constant level of rumble and noise. I have avoided such arguments in my own writings, as I have no deep qualifications to make very credible judgements, and also because I find such arguments very dull. I will be happy to wait and see what happens.

* Sources include:

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 aug 02 / gvg