Future of European, U.S. fighter lines rests with buyers in Asia, the Middle East and South America
With India, Japan and Switzerland having made their fighter decisions, the market is starting to turn to smaller campaigns as aircraft makers look to build backlogs to sustain production lines that may otherwise be nearing their end.
Competitions in South Korea and Brazil still attract industry players, but after those, the list of buyers thins out to countries with more limited budgets seeking to buy smaller numbers. That means manufacturers are starting to pay attention even to small countries like Botswana, and its eventual F-5 replacement needs.
That is not to say the incentive to promote high-end offerings is diminishing. Being able to deliver the most advanced systems possible remains an issue of more than bragging rights. That hasofficials eager to show that they are finally making progress in the increasingly important realm of active, electronically scanned array technology, where the European consortium has been trailing rivals.
The first Captor-E is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2012, says Bob Mason, vice president for radar marketing and sales at Selex Galileo, one of the partners in the Euroradar consortium. The first Typhoon with the radar will fly next year. Most of the work so far has been financed by industry. A government-funded development contract is now expected in 2013. Industry still hopes to be able to field the system in 2015, although delays in the government's financing of the development program means the in-service date could slip into 2016.
The repositioner, designed to maintain IFF (identification friend or foe) polarity and increase the pilot's field of regard using the sensor, and upgraded back end with increased processing are now coming together, Mason says. The development is “low- risk,” he asserts. The basic radar will have air-to-air, air-to-ground and synthetic aperture radar modes.
The radar is intended for Tranche 3A fighters, but could be retrofit on Tranche 2 aircraft as well.
Pressure is mounting on Typhoon for sales in export markets, having already failed in Japan, India and Switzerland. South Korea, where the Typhoon is squaring off against theand Silent Eagle, is seen as a long shot, given the strong U.S. military presence on the peninsula. Malaysia is seen as a potential buyer, and the consortium also still hopes to make inroads in the United Arab Emirates, which has been in on-again, off-again talks with France to buy the .
For the, last year's win in Switzerland and the subsequent commitment by Sweden to buy 60-80 of the new model E/F-standard aircraft has provided a shot in the arm, but export successes globally have been few.
Brazil could provide an important test case, opening the door not just to a new market but potentially to an entire region. Brazil's decision has been delayed numerous times, but Eddy de la Motte, vice president for marketing of the Swedish fighter, notes that “we get the feeling it is the end game.”
could deliver the first Gripen E/F (also called the NG) fighter four years after a contract award, but it is still unclear if that is the schedule Brasilia will insist on, or whether it will join the combined Swiss/Swedish Gripen E/F development schedule, which would see the first fighter handed over in 2018.
The first Gripen E/F prototype is due to fly late next year if the Swiss and Swedish governments can agree on the development path forward. The effort would likely require some funding from Saab, too.
Meanwhile, the Selex Galileo Raven ES-05 active, electronically scanned array radar is to fly on thedemonstrator soon, at which time the cockpit displays and sensor will be put through their paces.
The Swedish government has an offer on the table for potential export buyers, to accelerate its purchase if another country wants the Gripen E/F early but does not want to be the lead buyer. That offer remains open, de La Motte says.
A win in Brazil could open the door to other fighter deals in South America, adds Frederik Gustafson, regional director for Gripen exports in the Americas. “There is a huge need for new fighters in the region and the economies are growing,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Aerospace Forum Sweden 2012. There are more than a handful of countries that are looking to buy in the next five years, he added.
But that is not the only region where Saab is working to meet its target of selling 300 fighters over the next decade. In Thailand, were it has already sold 12 Gripens (six are delivered with six to follow next year), it is hoping for additional deals. Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and, “in a couple of years” Vietnam may also offer opportunities, de La Motte says.
Efforts also continue to extend the fighter lease deal with the Czech Republic and secure orders in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia. Gripen also still hopes to convince Denmark and the Netherlands to defect from the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter program.
This year, the Czech Republic is due to make a decision on whether it will extend the fighter lease beyond 2015. The Czech air force currently operates 12 single-seat and two dual-seat Gripens under a lease deal that expires in 2015. The goal is to complete negotiations this year on how to preserve fighter capability.
The leading candidate, preferred by the air force, is an extension of the lease deal with the Swedish government, with 5-, 10- and 20-year options being discussed (the 10-year option is seen as the most likely). A decision should be taken this year to allow time for a fall-back plan in case the lease deal does not materialize, says air force chief Brig. Gen. Jiri Verner.
Securing additional orders is critical not only for European manufacturers, seeing a potential end of their production lines in this decade in the absence of additional orders.is looking to both additional purchases by the U.S. and fighter export campaigns to sustain its two fighter production lines—the F-15 and F/A-18—beyond their currently expected lives.
The current multi-year program with the U.S. Navy runs until about 2015, but Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security (DSS), sees scope for sales of additionalto the to extend production. “We see an opportunity domestically for the joint electronic attack requirement,” he tells reporters. But whether there is enough demand for a fourth multi-year contract is unclear he notes.
While Muilenburg acknowledges that the existing backlog sees pressure on the F-15 and F/A-18E/F production lines in the 5-10-year time frame, he argues that both products have shown resilience and been able to extend their lives.
Several important decisions affecting exports loom in the coming months. Before year-end, Brazil is to announce its F-X2 fighter decision where the F/A-18E/F is competing against the Gripen NG and theRafale. South Korea is also expected to make its choice between the F-15, 's F-35 and the Typhoon.
Boeing also foresees more clarity to emerge on Australia's plans in the third quarter. That is when a decision is likely on the mix between the F-35s and F/A-18Fs and whether additional Super Hornet purchases will be made, says Mark Kronenberg, vice president- international business development at Boeing DSS. “I don't think they are going to walk away completely from the F-35, but the mix is a factor,” he argues.
Boeing sees Denmark as an opportunity for the F/A-18, as well as some nervousness among F-35 buyers that could generate opportunities, Kronenberg says.
The Middle East is viewed as another potential hot spot for deals, with Qatar and Kuwait seen as potential F/A-18E/F buyers. Kronenberg notes that “in Kuwait you are starting to see movement I had not seen two years ago.”
The United Arab Emirates might be an opportunity for Boeing, but Kronenberg sees that as an F-15 market.
Extending the production lines is vital for Boeing to maintain skills until future programs—FA-XX for the U.S. Navy and F-X for the U.S. Air Force—advance beyond the concept study phase. However, Muilenburg notes that skills will also be sustained through other efforts, including work in unmanned aircraft and the's next-generation bomber effort.
For Lockheed Martin, the issue is more one of trying to turn F-35 commitments into firm orders to secure the production ramp-up. The company does face an end of theproduction line in the absence of additional orders, but that issue is secondary to the concerns about building a backlog for the Joint Strike Fighter. Still, Lockheed Martin officials are still hopeful to extend F-16 production until late in the decade, in part through top-up buys from existing customers.