FCAS Plans Could Challenge Eurofighter Fleet Harmonization

Eurofighter concepts
Italy and the UK (developing the Tempest) and Germany and Spain (developing the FCAS) want to spiral technologies from their future combat air systems into the Eurofighter, which suggests two different Eurofighter development paths.
Credit: BAE Systems

Eurofighter partner nations are looking to reharmonize their fleets to get ready for the new wave of technology they are preparing for Europe’s next-generation combat aircraft.

  • Italy has joined UK-led Radar 2 development program
  • Fleet harmonization focuses on Eurofighter mission-data capabilities

The four partner nations—Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK—see future development of the Eurofighter as a steppingstone toward the introduction of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) being developed by Germany and Spain, along with France, and the Tempest FCAS initiative by the UK and Italy. But could such harmonization efforts be in vain? Since all four Eurofighter nations are taking separate paths toward two next-generation fighters, it seems likely that Eurofighter development could again become fragmented, guided by these disparate next-generation fighter efforts for the 2030s and beyond.

Airbus has described the Eurofighter as a “natural bridge” to the FCAS, and BAE takes a similar view about the fighter’s links to the Tempest.

Reharmonization is now necessary, industry officials say, particularly with the Eurofighter still chasing major export campaigns such as the one in Finland.

The UK’s Centurion program to equip the Royal Air Force’s Typhoons with capabilities from the now-retired Panavia Tornado gave the UK the most advanced Eurofighters of all four nations but left those of the others far behind.

“Centurion put the UK a long way ahead of the other partner nations,” Andrew Mallery-Blythe, Typhoon Operational Requirements Manager for BAE Systems, told journalists at the Defense Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London in September.

“It fragmented the program somewhat, and we are not aligned with the other nations,” Mallery-Blythe said, noting that some partner nations have yet to introduce the ramjet-powered MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile into service on the aircraft. The weapon has been operational on UK Typhoons since 2018 and will shortly reach frontline units in Germany, but its introduction for Italy and Spain is still some way off.

Mallery-Blythe says the wider program has benefited from lessons learned from that early integration and that these will be “folded into the core program.”

The four nations also have yet to finalize the contents of the Eurofighter’s Long-Term Evolution (LTE) package, seen as a midlife update for the aircraft, although they have recently agreed on a work package—the Consolidation Package Step Two and Three—as part of the fleet harmonization process (AW&ST Aug. 30-Sept. 12, p. 35).  

During DSEI, BAE Systems revealed what it sees as the road map for Eurofighter developments that will support new capabilities and help prepare partner nations, particularly those working on the Tempest, to prepare for the introduction of that platform.

These include changes to the power management system and the greater use of mission data and networked communications. As well as the proposed wide-area display cockpit, a development self-funded by BAE Systems, the company is also envisaging what it calls a “common cockpit concept” that could introduce the augmented reality cockpit concepts considered for the Tempest. Adopting them on the Eurofighter is a move that could potentially reduce the training burden and enable pilots to fly Eurofighters as well as the future manned combat aircraft that will become the Tempest. 

BAE has also been working with the UK Defense Ministry on the potential introduction of its Striker 2 helmet, which would eliminate the need for a cockpit head-up display, smoothing the way for the modernization of the cockpit.

Additional weaponry envisaged for the Eurofighter includes the MBDA Spear mini cruise missile and the electronic warfare (EW) derivative Spear EW. The Typhoon would also receive the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon that will replace the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile, as well as the so-called FCAS adjuncts, the uncrewed systems that will work with the manned combat aircraft to perform EW and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as part of a wider strike package.

One of the UK’s Eurofighter aspirations is the dynamic use of mission data such as intelligence on adversary radars. If the fighter’s defensive aids suite senses a new threat, the data collected would be streamed back to mission-data experts using advanced communications systems.

“The intent is to turn that mission data around and in the same mission update your defensive-aids suite,” says Paul Smith, head of business development for Typhoon capability at BAE Systems.

Part of this effort is being supported by Team Novus, a collaboration of BAE Systems, Leonardo, MASS, Meta Mission Data, Sigma and Thales. It was formed in August 2020 to develop means to make better use of mission data.  

BAE is also envisaging that partner nations will adopt the Aerodynamic Modification Kit (AMK), first developed by Airbus in Germany in 2015 to provide improved maneuverability and longitudinal stability for the canard-equipped aircraft.

According to Mallery-Blythe, introduction of the AMK can make it quicker and easier to integrate new weapons, a costly and time-consuming process on the platform, and could also pave the way for carriage of asymmetric stores.

The UK is set to make investments to ensure the Typhoon meets new international air traffic regulations as well, allowing them to operate in shared airspace as they transit to theater or deploy.

“The aircraft has made astonishing progress in the past few years, and its capability gains have been extremely rapid to make it what is now a very credible swing-role aircraft,” says Mallery-Blythe, a former Royal Air Force Eurofighter pilot himself.

But even with these harmonization efforts, by the middle of the decade there could again be a wide gap between the capabilities of Eurofighters being operated by Germany and Spain on the one hand and by Italy and the UK on the other.

Current UK plans call for the introduction of the Mk. 2 version of the Captor-E active, electronically scanned array radar with its electronic attack capabilities in around 2025. This will be a more powerful radar than the Mk. 1 model envisaged for retrofit on Germany’s Tranche 2 and 3 and the Quadriga buy that will replace Berlin’s Tranche 1 aircraft, giving a “significant [suppression of enemy air defenses] capability,” Mallery-Blythe says.

Italy has subsequently joined the Mk. 2 radar development, with the two countries forming an Industrial Joint Team to develop the sensor. Leonardo says the Mk. 2 radar is not the radar that will feature on Tempest, but much of the technology will feed into the future sensor. Furthermore, BAE Systems is also working on a task-based management system to control the radar and reduce the workload of the pilot.

UK aircraft are due to receive the new Rafael Litening 5 targeting pod, too, likely to enter service before the end of this year.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.


1 Comment
This is a 'bear trap' for both consortia. Both will be angling for work on the other's legacy fighters. How long do you think work share negotiations will take and how much will the systems cost?