Fighter modification may keep Germany in the fold

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The Independent Online
A modification of the troubled European Fighter Aircraft could be produced 30 per cent cheaper with minimal loss of performance, a new study claims. Such an aircraft - called new EFA, or NEFA, - could keep Germany in the four-nation project.

Last Friday the Eurofighter consortium submitted a study to defence ministers which indicates that a modified EFA, with the same engines and radar, could be built for a price which Volker Ruhe, Germany's defence minister, has said would be acceptable to him, without a significant loss of performance.

Mr Ruhe's opposition to the aircraft is political as well as financial, however, and even when presented with the new version, Germany may still withdraw from the project.

The study was drawn up on the basis of four nations participating in the project and further work will be necessary to determine the cost for three nations if Germany still decides to withdraw - or, if Italy and Spain withdraw, for Britain going it alone. The seven-volume study, which was commissioned after all four governments called for price cuts in July, was delivered to defence ministers on Friday, according to industry sources yesterday.

Mr Ruhe has consistently said that the EFA was more sophisticated than was necessary to meet the reduced threat from the former Soviet Union, and that Germany, burdened by the costs of reunification, could not afford it.

He advocated a less capable aircraft, variously called 'EFA-light' or 'Jaeger-90'. But British industry and the Ministry of Defence have consistently said that to redesign the aircraft would cost more and delay its entry into service by several years. The RAF wants it from 1998. The costs are complicated as each country uses different accounting methods. The Germans work on a 'system price', comprising the aircraft's 'fly- away' cost - its basic unit price - plus production investment costs, tooling, and ten years' spares and support.

On this basis the Germans costed the EFA at DM127m each in April, 1992. They said they wanted an aircraft which cost DM90m. Since then, the price has been reduced to DM111m through revised workshare and re-examination of support costs. It emerged that although the unit cost included measures to make it more reliable and easier to maintain than earlier versions, the Germans were still budgeting for the same spares and support. The new standard model, NEFA, has modifications to the aircraft, but retains the same shape, airframe, engines and radar. NEFAs can be varied to suit the requirements of individual air forces - as can EFAs - creating a family with capabilities just below those of the EFA but at lower cost. Within that 'envelope', a less capable version could be built for Germany: the most capable, perhaps, for the RAF.

The study examined seven other possible designs. It estimated that five would cost more than the current 'baseline price' - DM111m to the Germans - and two less, but the latter fall below the acceptable performance criterion: winning in an engagement with the best Russian aircraft available for export, the Su- 27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum.

It is understood that the study predicts that NEFA, on the other hand, would cost over 20 per cent less than the April 1992 estimate for EFA (DM127m), and slightly less capable variants in the NEFA family, nearly 30 per cent less. The study says that none of the other designs matched NEFA in combat performance and, except for the two weakest options, were more expensive.

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