US and Europe duel over fighter sales worth billions

Europe and the United States locked horns in a multi billion pound battle yesterday to win contracts from air forces around the world for their new fighter planes.

Four Eurofighters carried out spectacular manoeuvres in close formation at the Farnborough air show, one of the world's biggest aviation showcases, in scenes echoing Second World War dogfights. But the newly named Eurofighter Typhoons are also in a dogfight against the biggest ever warplane project, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being built by the US's Lockheed Martin.

What was dreamt of as Europe's state-of-the-art front-line aircraft has been dogged by delays, and is now facing fierce competition from the American-built rival, and the battle to grab the major slice of defence budgets of more than a dozen countries is now relentless.

The Eurofighter's future is also under threat from the twin missiles of political expediency and budgetary constraints.

Yesterday political and military leaders from the four nations manufacturing the Eurofighter – Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain – were in attendance at the airshow.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, praised the plane as the shape of the future. "It is an absolutely fantastic airplane. I am completely thrilled with it and I have just talked to the pilots and it keeps getting better and better," he said.

But there were persistent rumours that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown is urging a reduction on the 232 planes ordered for the Royal Air Force.

A cut back would be a major blow to the Eurofighter and its producers, including BAE Systems and its sister conglomerate, the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Company (EADS). The British order is the biggest, followed by 180 for Germany, 121 for Italy, 87 for Spain and 24 for Austria.

It would be yet another problem for the aircraft, which was first conceived in the early Eighties and still has not gone into full production.

Waiting at the wings is Lockheed Martin with its Joint Strike Fighter. The Americans are carrying out a sustained drive in Europe to present their product as a better and most cost effective alternative to the European competitor.

A number of European countries have now got a foot in both camps. While the Ministry of Defence has pulled in a sizeable portion of the $15bn (£96bn) total budget of the Typhoon, it has also been the biggest European contributor to the JSF with $2bn.

BAE Systems, while the leading partner in the Eurofighter, is also the biggest foreign sub contractor for the JSF, securing about 15 per cent of the work, including part of the aircraft body and the onboard electronic system.

The Italians, who are making the left wings for the Eurofighter, have also decided to get on the JSF bandwagon.

Investment by Alenia Aeronautica in the US programme is said to be "substantial''. Admiral Giampaolo DePalo, Italy's National Armament Director, said: "The JSF was offering a capability with reasonable cost that an upgraded Eurofighter could not deliver.''

The JSF will be available, say the makers, for about $35m each. The Eurofighter is expected to cost about $65m. The JSF can be used for bombing as well as aboard aircraft carriers, while the Typhoon is purely a land-based fighter.

Supporters of the Eurofighter say the price of the JSF may substantially rise by the time it comes into production. They also maintain that its much-vaunted multiplicity has yet to be tested. There is also the warning that for Europe to abandon the Eurofighter at this stage would surrender the military industry to the US and be a huge waste of money.

The RAF, given the choice, would choose the Eurofighter because, they say, it is better.

However, air chiefs also accept that the British investment in the JSF is part of Tony Blair's transatlantic trapeze act and will continue.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back