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Government slashes final Eurofighter order

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The UK is buying only 40 out of an expected 88 aircraft as part of the third tranche of orders for the controversial Eurofighter Typhoon.

The 40 planes will cost £3bn - 24 are replacing RAF planes which have already been sold and sent to Saudi Arabia, and 16 are actual extra planes. The first aircraft should go into active service in 2013.

Quentin Davies, procurement minister at the Ministry of Defence, told the FT that the government was quite within its rights to drop its order for a final 48 planes. The 16 planes destined for the RAF will carry eight air-to-air missiles and six air-to-ground missiles.

It was only in May that Gordon Brown promised to go ahead with the third tranche order. Only he didn't really. He put out a statement that "confirmed that the UK will move ahead... with the final stages of procuring a third batch of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft".

A footnote to the press statement said: "It is not a contract signature: the number and cost of the aircraft are still to be determined."

At that time we were told any cancellation would cost the UK £2bn in penalty payments. We can't see any reason why those penalties won't apply again now. BAE isn't speaking to the press now but watch this space.

The Eurofighter project began in the mid-80s and originally aimed to provide an aircraft to dogfight Soviet jets over mainland Europe. Hit by a series of delays it was then renamed Eurofighter 2000 in a vain attempt to disguise the fact it was meant to deliver planes by 1995.

The RAF got its first squadron ready for air defence in 2007, by which time the original design brief of the aircraft had passed into history.

Maybe the MoD could be persuaded to divert some of the RAF's leftover funds to provide practical support to British troops in Afghanistan. ®

Lewis Page is away but will likely return to this subject next week.

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