Thursday, November 21, 2013

Will the Typhoon see big sales in the Persion Gulf region?

Is an announcement imminent?

When British Prime Minister David Cameron made an impromptu visit to the Dubai Air Show this week, many saw it as a sign that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would be announcing a purchase of the Eurofighter Typhoon.  This wasn't the case, but it still appears that the Typhoon will be the UAE's choice for an upcoming purchase of 60 cutting edge fighter jets in an estimated $9 billion deal.

The Typhoon is up against the Dassault Rafale in a bid to replace the UAE's aging fleet of Mirage 2000s.  Despite the Rafale being the early frontrunner, the Eurofighter Consortium managed to pull ahead using its considerable political, industrial, and economic might.  The UAE are also likely to order additional F-16 "Desert Viper's" from Lockheed Martin, although that deal has yet to be finalized.

Royal Bahraini Air Force F-16.
Next on the list is Bahrain.  Already in the process of upgrading its F-16 fleet, Bahrain is looking to replace its retiring F-5 fleet with a new multi-role aircraft.  The Typhoon is a clear frontrunner in this regard, but the Rafale and even the F-35 are being considered.  Bahrain's King Hamad is said to have expressed a liking for the Typhoon, however, so it is the clear favorite.

Kuwait is expected to be replacing its aging fleet of F/A-18s soon, and recent evaluation of the Typhoon left a positive impression.  Recent attempts to purchase the Dassault Rafale was derailed due to its "suspicious" nature, so now thing look like they've opened up to the usual suspects:  Super Hornet, Silent Eagle, Typhoon, and Rafale.

Not to be left behind, Qatar is also looking for new fighters.  While a request for information (RFI) was sent out with hopes bids would be in by this past September, the USA managed to get an extension until the end of the year, allowing Boeing to place a bid in for the F-18E/F Super Hornet and/or F-15SE Silent Eagle.  This one could be anybody's race.  Qatar has usually purchased French military equipment, but its current Emir, Sheikh Tamin Bin Hamad Al Thadi, seemed to buck this trend by buying U.S. sourced equipment.

So why does the Typhoon look so promising to all these Arab nations?  Saudi Arabia.

Royal Saudi Air Force Typhoon
Saudi Arabia's agreement to purchase 72 Eurofighter Typhoons is convoluted and controversial, to say the least.  Allegations of fraudulent business practices, paying for jets with oil instead of cash, and uncertainty plagued the purchase.  Desperate for Typhoon sales, the decision was made to deliver Saudi Typhoons before the deal was finalized.  In the end, it is still a huge victory for the Typhoon, though.  Saudi Arabian investment brings a much needed influx of cash into a program funded mostly by countries in the process of "austerity measures".  More than that, Saudi Arabia happens to be a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, UAE and Kuwait.


Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
Oman has already placed an order for 12 Typhoons.  Not a huge order, but enough to certainly see a trend of what might happen in the area.  Qatar and Kuwait are said to be willing to follow the UAE's lead in a fighter purchase.  With this, a UAE Typhoon order may be enough to ensure a clean sweep.

Needless to say, having a bunch of oil-rich countries purchase the Typhoon would be huge boon to the Eurofighter program.  Not only does it keep the assembly lines going, but it also helps fund interest in future upgrades to the platform.  Not only that, but as the F-16 has shown (and the F-35 hopes to show) as total unit numbers go up, individual unit cost goes down.  This could make the Eurofighter Typhoon a far more attractive option for other countries looking to update their fighter force.

The Typhoon is an impressive fighter.  It has been praised by its pilots and has proven itself in wartime conditions.  There's also the *ahem* "Raptor Salad" thing.  Hey, any fighter that can take on the legendary F-22 and win can't be too bad...  Right?

Proposed "Typhoon 2020" with enhance strike capabilities and conformal fuel tanks.
It does have its issues though.  It's nowhere near as cheap as the Gripen or the Super Hornet.  Thanks to its convoluted, multi-national development, it has had its fair share of "sticker shock", much like the F-22 and F-35.  The Typhoon's price is coming down though, and more sales will only further this trend.

Traditionally, the Typhoon's Achilles' heel has been its lack of ground attack capability.  Upgrades to Tranche 1 and 2 versions have added acceptable strike capability, with future Tranche 3 version being touted as true multirole fighters.

Not to be overlooked as well is the Typhoon's comparatively low service life.  At 6,000 flight hours (about 25 years of average use), the Typhoon is substantially behind projected airframe hours of the Super Hornet or F-35 Lightning II, both rated at 8,000.  Studies are being done to improve the Typhoon's service life, however.  It should be noted that the F-16 was originally meant to fly only 4,000 hours, but improvements have brought that number up to 8,000 over the years.  Also, the CF-18 was originally rated for 6,000 hours (same as the Typhoon), but various service life extension programs (SLEP) like those done by the USMC has raised that to close to 10,000.

With Boeing's recent run of bad luck, Dassault's inability to lock down its one-and-only foreign Rafale sale so far, and Saab's preference for developing markets over higher end NATO members; the Typhoon is starting to look like the only western jet fighter capable of standing up to the JSF sales juggernaut.  It is already in use by 7 countries, 4 of which are NATO members.  It's industrial backers include aerospace giants like EADS, Rolls-Royce, and BAE.  Also, Eurofighter is not constrained by the F-35's distribution via the USA's Foreign Military Sales program.  This means that Typhoons are able to be sold more countries, and that less security restrictions are placed on those sales.  As it is, F-35 sales have not been approved for GCC countries, with some speculating that Typhoon purchase announcements have been put off in the hope that F-35 sales would be approved.

With the possibility of some high-profile sales in the near future, could the Eurofighter Typhoon start to steal sales away from the F-35?  Or will the JSF continue to be the darling of military leaders everywhere?

And for those wondering how the Typhoon fares against the Bugatti Veyron...  Here ya go.




1 comment:

  1. Fighter selection process is rather long in GCC countries, considering the absence of bureaucracy around military acquisition in these countries... We're talking about UAE, Koweit and Qatar for at least 4 years.
    As you said, it is often considered that Koweit and Qatar will choose the same aircraft that UAE. But there is some reports that UAE aren't so impatient to replace their not-so-old Mirage 2000, while Qatar has a "world cup" deadline and want to choose quickly. So, Qatar decision could be before UAE.


    This consideration aside, UAE deal is very important. If Typhoon win this one, UAE could fund interesting capabilities and after Oman and Saudi Arabia, that would be a lot of success in the Persian Gulf! If GCC countries want for some reason the same aircraft (but you already write about interoperability....), that would mean a huge Typhoon advantage in other tenders among the GCC countries.


    Nevertheless, it seems that in this region, you never know what to expect : what do they want? which one has an edge? When will they decide? I would not bet on these deals!

    About Bahrain, it seems that the process is in early phase, so I would not expect a decision as soon as the Bahrain air show. Even Oman take several years before the Typhoon contract.

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