Germany 'may opt for EFA after all'

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The Independent Online
THE MINISTRY of Defence is still hoping that the Germans will think again about withdrawing from the four-nation European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) project. But if the Germans do pull out of the production phase after a mandatory six-month consultation period, Britain looks determined to continue with EFA as a three-nation project, and the RAF is adamant that it is essential to meet its requirements up to 2030, writes Christopher Bellamy.

A senior civil servant yesterday described the motion adopted by the German coalition parties on Tuesday night as 'a masterpiece of ambiguity', while senior RAF officers ridiculed German ideas about a 'lighter, cheaper' version.

The German motion was widely seen as a firm decision to withdraw from production of the aircraft, although Germany would still have to meet all the agreed costs of development.

But MoD sources yesterday said that the EFA Memorandum of Understanding committed Germany to three months' informal discussions with the three partners and then another three months for formal notification to withdraw. This, they said, would give Germany the benefit of that delay to solve its budgetary problems. They hoped that having examined other options, the Germans would return to EFA.

The project has been evolving for eight years and the first aircraft is due to fly towards the end of the year. The latest German idea would mean starting again from scratch, as every part of the plane has been developed to fit the planned airframe.

The RAF believes passionately that EFA is the most cost-effective way of meeting its future needs, from about the end of the century.

Studies in the UK and German defence ministries and by industry all agreed on this, sources said. If Germany did withdraw, the cost of each aircraft might go up but there would be economies, with a maximum of three production lines instead of four.