Fighter project firms consider 'all cost options'

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The Independent Online
The study to cut the cost of the European Fighter Aircraft was one-third complete and substantial savings had been identified, John Weston, the chairman of British Aerospace Defence, said as the Farnborough Air Show opened yesterday.

'Every possible option' to reduce the cost was under consideration, including giving the plane just one engine, although sources said that option would be discarded as it would mean redesigning the air frame, thus wasting the pounds 5bn spent on development.

Rolls-Royce, a partner in the consortium developing the engine, has already rejected the possibility. Sir Ralph Robins, its chief executive, said that a single-engine fighter would not meet the EFA requirements as currently designated: 'I believe those to be the correct requirements.'

BAe robustly defended the need for the EFA to counter 'known and projected threats well into the 21st century'. Ironically, the threat that EFA was 'designed to meet', to quote the presentation in the EFA simulator, was on the tarmac.

As BAe warned of the threat posed by the latest aircraft from the Commonwealth of Independent States in other countries' hands, the CIS began its marketing campaign a stone's throw away with 21 aircraft, including an Su- 35. This was a renamed Su-27M, the aircraft that that prompted development of EFA.

Earlier, Mr Weston said: 'The obvious issue is, 'Is there a remaining requirement for this aircraft' (EFA), and I've been heartened by the firm support of Jonathan Aitken, the Defence Procurement Minister, Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, and indeed from the Prime Minister.'

He said the cost-cutting study would be completed at the end of the year. 'We will need to satisfy the customer that we've looked at all the feasible options,' he said, adding: 'The EFA design as currently configured is the most cost- effective solution.' Seven EFAs are already at an advanced stage of development. 'The next important milestone is the production investment decision, which is due next year.'

Germany recently announced an intention to withdraw from the four-nation consortium. Asked if the remaining members would proceed with EFA regardless, Mr Weston said that was part of 'the study about how we produce the aeroplane most cheaply'.

The day began under low cloud which threatened to put a stop to the flying display, but it began on time as the skies cleared. The Russians are the stars of the week- long show with the MiG-29 and Su-27 interceptors doing spectacular aerobatics including the 'cobra', where the aircraft stands on its tail in mid-air and then strikes forward like the snake.

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