Warplanes: Eurofighter Gets Earthy


November 21, 2014: Eurofighter is upgrading its Typhoon jet fighter to handle new types of weapons and AESA radar. So far 371 Typhoons have been delivered and another 101 are on order. The upgrades are another attempt to halt the decline in orders for Typhoon. Faced with more large cuts in its defense budgets and lack of urgency the original customers for Typhoon have been cutting their orders since the 1990s. While the Eurofighter is mainly an air-superiority ("fighter") aircraft, there is very little call for that sort of thing at the moment. Ground attack, on the other hand, is very much in demand and that’s what the new additions emphasize.

In 2009 Germany and Britain decided to cut back on the number of Eurofighters they would buy. Originally, Britain planned to buy 232 while Germany was to get 180, Italy 121, and Spain 87. Britain already had 144 Eurofighters on order from the first two batches but now will end up with 184. Eurofighter entered service in 2007 and by 2011 there were 260 Typhoons delivered. Deliveries have continued even as orders were cut.

The two new missiles for Typhoon are Storm Shadow and Brimstone II.  Storm Shadow is an air launched stealthy cruise missile that got its first combat experience over Iraq in 2003. The 5.2 meter (16 foot) long, 1.3 ton missile has a 250 kilometer range and carries a penetrating warhead. The missile is a British modified version of the French Apache missile and entered service in late 2002, and costs over $1.5 million each.

Brimstone began as an upgraded version of the American Hellfire. Instead Brimstone ended up as a Hellfire in general shape only. Weighing the same as the Hellfire (48.5 kg/107 pounds), Brimstone was designed to be fired by fighter-bombers, not just (as with Hellfire) from helicopters and UAVs. Aircraft can carry more of these lightweight missiles. These are perfect for small targets, including vehicles that need to be hit, without causing injuries to nearby civilians or friendly troops. Brimstone II has an improved guidance system and higher reliability.

AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars are the big new thing for combat aircraft as they are more capable and reliable than older radar designs. AESA systems consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. Many new uses have been found for the smaller, airborne AESA radars now equipping many smaller aircraft (fighters and UAVs). The latest uses are for electronic warfare and for spotting things on the ground in detail.

AESA has only been around for about three decades since the 1980s at least as a fielded device. The U.S. Aegis naval radar was one of the first big successes. AESA radar made the JSTARS aircraft possible, enabling it to locate vehicles moving on the ground. A new AESA radar for JSTARS enables them to spot smaller, man sized objects. AESA type radars are also popular for their ability deal with lots of targets simultaneously. JSTARS radar has now been tweaked so it can spot ships and boats at sea.  AESA is also being used as a communications device, because it can transmit, and receive, large quantities of information. More powerful airborne AESA radars can even zap warheads and guidance systems on missiles, or other aircraft.  Chinese espionage efforts have long concentrated on American AESA technology, and that has resulted in the enormous growth of Chinese AESA capabilities in a short time.

Development of the Eurofighter began in the 1980s, and the first flight took place in 1994. Each aircraft costs over $120 million, including development costs. Current estimates indicate that less than 500 will eventually be built. The Typhoon is a somewhat stealthy multi-role fighter. It is fast, maneuverable, and carries a lot of weapons. It also can be used for attack missions. This 23 ton aircraft will be the principal fighter in the air forces of Britain, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The Typhoon is closer in capability to the F-15, than the F-22, and is competing with the F-35 for many export sales. The Typhoon was purchased by Saudi Arabia, mainly to provide protection from Iran. Some users, like Britain and Germany, see no urgent demand for the new Eurofighter. So when it comes time to make budget cuts, spare parts for the Eurofighter, and fuel to get pilots in the air for training, are among the first things to go.





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