In the next few months we might know if Typhoon has won the Indian and Japanese fighter competitions.
A lot has been written about the Indian Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) competition and it is now a straight run off between Typhoon and Rafale. The recent escorting of the Indian Prime Ministers aircraft into Austria by a pair of Typhoons was no doubt anther building block in the media onslaught but arguably of more importance in the competition is its performance over Libya where it demonstrated very high availability and briefings on its pairing with the GR4’s and growth potential will also be a significant factor.
I think I read somewhere that in the recent trials in India the Typhoon was the only one in the competition to achieve a 100% availability rate and was also the only one able to take off at the designated time and place with a full weapon and fuel load, with one engine. This is only internet rumour so who knows but there is no doubt about Typhoon’s performance, its superb human machine interface, ability to supercruise and high G manoeuvrability make it a potent aircraft. Link those qualities up with a decent range of weapons and a clear growth path and it becomes compelling.
Typhoon has a lot going for it in the Indian competition and the reported maritime version that was being discussed recently makes for an even more interesting future.
However, it is the Japanese competition that will have greater impact.
By steadfastly refusing to allow Tokyo to obtain the F22 the USA has set the scene for a competition between the F35, F18 and Typhoon.
In a similar situation, Australia would probably also have liked the F22 but for a number of reasons settled on a stop gap of F18 and a longer term F35 purchase so why would Japan be any different?
In a recent interview for the Financial Times, Japans new defence minister (Yasuo Ichikawa) said Japan’s alliance with the US would not be a “major criterion”
This is of course a seismic shift in their approach to buying defence equipment, the strong strategic relationship between Japan and the USA leading to an almost monopoly market for American defence contractors, especially in the high end aerospace sector.
But if we look at both the strategic landscape, military relations between Japan and the USA and Japan’s increasing confidence in the sector there is evidence that underpins this change in approach.
As the USA looks increasingly towards the Pacific and its relationship with China the chess pieces on the board are beginning to shift, the recent refusal of the USA to sell new aircraft to Taiwan might be weighing heavily on Tokyo’s mind, could they be next?
Of course the refusal to sell them the F22 only reinforces this perception that the USA values its relationship with China more than Japan.
Japan is also increasingly able to design, manufacture and maintain high-tech aerospace equipment and the much enhanced industrial benefits on offer from the Eurofighter consortium will accelerate their industries development.
China is making rapid progress in military technology and the whole western press practically pissing in its pants about the J20 only reinforces the hysteria but whatever one might think of the J20 and whatever it actually is, it shows two things; progress and ambition.
If Japan is to retain any sort of strategic parity with its bigger neighbour, and let’s not forget history here either, it needs an integrated air defence system that marries up many components. The aircraft is only one of those components, something that most people tend to forget when comparing aircraft, but it is an important one.
In the absence of F22 and industrial sharing with the USA, the next logical best choice is a superb multi role fighter combined with strong industrial sharing that will allow Japan to develop its own solutions and enhancements.
Japan is set to decide by the end of December on its way forward for over 40 aircraft.
Although the country is still recovering from the tsunami the deal is still strategically important enough to have a high priority and the economic benefits of the Typhoon are another important consideration.
Interesting times ahead for Eurofighter
I would be interested to know if the MoD’s budget actually benefits directly from export success of Typhoon. Of course it would be good for UK PLC (which ultimately pays for the MoD) but if the MoD never sees any direct benefit it is a harder quantify the value. It would seem that it does, the recent problems caused by the Omani deal not coming to fruition were cited as a reason for short term financial problems, but nevertheless, if anyone knows the exact mechanism please put a comment below.
The answer to this question also raises an interesting set of discussion points about the role of the MoD in defence sales, the value of a defence industrial strategy and the ubiquitous ‘off the shelf’ argument.
It also, of course, reopens the can of worms about JCA, Sea Typhoon and Rafale!