Eurofighter Typhoon – how a former member of the U.S. Air Force evaluates this fighter: In the 1980s, when the dominant players in European aerospace design collaborated to create an air superiority fighter capable of matching Soviet models, the result was the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Typhoon, which was not introduced until 2003, is the progeny of Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo – who conducted the project through a joint holding company, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH.
Eurofighter Typhoon History
The project began in 1983 as the Future European Fighter Aircraft program. Initially, the project included the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Three of the nations, Germany, Italy, and the UK, had just developed the Panavia Tornado and now wanted to produce an even more advanced jet, while including additional nations in the project. France left the project early, however, amidst a dispute regarding design authority and operational authority. (France would instead develop the Dassault Rafale, alone).
The jet’s production was complicated in the early 90s, when the Soviet Union, essentially the reason the jet was being produced, ceased to exist. Like so many other western weapons development programs that had not yet been completed before the Cold War ended, the Typhoon project was questioned.
Do we need this? Is it worth the cost? The governments funding the project were no longer so certain. Still, the Typhoon project proceeded – although further roadblocks lay ahead.
A Challenging Project
Coordinating a multi-billion dollar weapons program between European powers is not simple. Competing egos and competing interests complicated the process; decisions that were relatively streamlined when one country was involved were now a venue for discussion and debate.
For example, in 1990, the selection of the aircraft’s radar became a significant dispute. The UK, Italy, and Spain all wanted the new jet to feature the Ferranti Defence Systems ECR-90. Germany, meanwhile, was adamant that the jet feature the APG-65-based MSD2000. Working out a solution required the involvement of Defence Secretaries.
Politics complicated the jet’s design, too. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, East and West Germany reunified. The reunification was financially burdensome, however, inspiring a political atmosphere in which all government spending was strictly scrutinized; anything deemed superfluous was publicly criticized. In 1991, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made a promise on the campaign trail: if elected, he would cancel Germany’s involvement in the Eurofighter program. Similarly, German Defence Minister Volker Ruhe worked to withdraw Germany from Eurofighter, hoping instead to invest in a cheaper, lighter jet. But the Eurofighter program had already come too far; despite opposition from the top of Germany’s government, the money already spent, the jobs created, and the previous inter-government commitments prevented Germany from withdrawing. The Eurofighter proceeded with everyone on board.
Eurofighter Typhoon Proved It Was Worth It
The finished product began flight testing in the mid-90s. One thing was clear: the Typhoon was highly agile, whether at low or high speeds. The agility was owed mainly to a relaxed stability design. To compensate for the jet’s inherent instability, a quadruplex fly-by-wire control system was installed – as a pilot’s manual operation would not have been able to keep the jet stable. The fly-by-wire system prevents the pilot from pushing beyond the permitted maneuvering envelope.
While the Eurofighter Typhoon is not a stealth fighter, efforts were taken to reduce the jet’s radar cross section (RCS). For example, the Typhoon has inlets that conceal the front of the engines. And many of the jet’s flight surfaces, like the leading edges of the wing, canard, and rudder, are swept to reduce the RCS. Some of the jet’s weaponry is mounted partially recessed into the aircraft, reducing the RCS further. The partially recessed weapons payload is something of a half-measure relative to the fully internal weapons bays found on fifth-generation stealth fighters.
Powering the Typhoon are two Eurojet EJ200 engines. Each EJ200 provides up to 13,500 pounds of thrust (dry) and 20,230 pounds of thrust (with afterburners). The engines also have a “war” setting, in which dry thrust can be increased 15 percent and afterburner can be increased 5 percent, for a few seconds without damaging the engine. The EJ200 combines technology from all of the participating defense firms – and resultantly, is quite advanced. The engine features digital control and health monitoring; wide chord aerofoils; single crystal turbine blades, and; a convergent/divergent exhaust nozzle.
The Eurofighter Typhoon has been a welcome addition to the participating nation’s arsenal – and has also been exported to Middle Eastern nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. While European entities are beginning to collaborate on a sixth-generation fighter, the Typhoon will likely remain in service for decades to come.
Bonus: Eurofighter Typhoon Photo Essay
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.