Britain's bill for Eurofighter soars

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BRITAIN's share of developing the Eurofighter project has risen by pounds 450m to pounds 3.45bn, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee was told yesterday.

Half the increase in costs was said to have been due to delays and uncertainties caused by Germany's threats to pull out of the project two years ago, and half was due to problems in the delivery of equipment and components.

About one-third of the development cost is being borne in Britain with the remainder shared between Germany, Italy and Spain. The total cost of the project is more than pounds 32bn. Eurofighter's first flight has been delayed for two years but Jack Gordon, director-general of aircraft in the Ministry of Defence, told the committee that it was now scheduled for April.

Difficulties with developing the computer software for the aircraft's flight control system were said to be the main problem holding up test flights. Work sharing agreements had complicated the project with items of software being written in four countries before being assembled by Deutsche Aerospace in Germany.

Deliveries of the aircraft, to replace Jaguars and Tornados, are due to begin in 2000 for Britain and Italy and in 2002 for Spain and Germany.

Mr Gordon told MPs that part of the extra cost was being absorbed by industry and that the four governments involved were seeking to negotiate fixed-price contracts.

But Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Tory MP for Perth and Kinross, remained sceptical about official assurances over costs. He said: 'Obviously any Ministry of Defence contract is a soft touch as regarded by the suppliers. It seems to me that there is very little control of expenditure. To have a contract which can be varied in its cost, always upwards, is a very dangerous contract.'

Mr Gordon added that five teams of auditors - one from each country plus one from Nato - examined Euro fighter's budgets each year.

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