August 5, 2009:
Britain is selling 48 of the Eurofighter Typhoon fighters it was obligated to take as part of the third batch (or "tranche", as they like to call it in Europe) of 88 Typhoons being manufactured. Earlier this year, Britain had decided to take 40 of the fighters from the third batch, and resell another 24 to Saudi Arabia. Britain was willing to pay $2 billion to avoid taking the full 88. Now Britain is fulfilling its obligation to the consortium of nations that developed and built the advanced aircraft. The British government believes that 180 Eurofighters will be sufficient, and that it cannot afford any more than that.
Originally, Britain planned to buy 232 (Germany was to get 180, Italy 121, and Spain 87.) Britain has already purchased 144 Eurofighters from the first two batches. A year ago, there were 135 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters in service, and the aircraft have been in the air for a combined 35,000 hours (as of the end of 2007.) Half those hours were flown in 2007, as the Eurofighter entered regular service in several nations. About 20 percent of those flight hours were for flight testing, but the rest were for day-to-day operations. The future looked bright. But since then, competition from American and Russian fighters, for export sales, and lack of European enthusiasm for more purchases, has dimmed sales prospects.
Development of the Eurofighter began two decades ago, and the first flight took place in 1994. Britain has invested $27 billion in developing and manufacturing Typhoons. Each aircraft costs over $146 million, including development costs. Current estimates indicate that about 600 will eventually be built. Development began during the Cold War, and the aircraft was designed to deal with the mighty Soviet Air Force. That foe quickly faded away after the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Britain feels it needs to invest more money into its army (which is heavily engaged in Afghanistan) and navy (Britain is still an island nation.) The batch 3 Typhoons are capable of ground attack, and Britain wants to get some of them to Afghanistan.
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 recently purchased by Saudi Arabia, mainly to provide protection from Iran.