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Eurofighter Typhoon: It's EVEN WORSE than we thought

RAF gets just 107 jets – and new budget trainwreck looms

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'Living within the planned budget for running costs will be challenging' – No sh*t, Sherlock

Unfortunately this means that we'll need to support them and keep them flying into the future – all the way to 2030 on current plans. In general, a military aircraft typically costs two or three times in support over its lifetime what it cost to acquire: that would be a horrifying £46bn at minimum in the case of Eurofighter, enough to replace Trident twice over. Allowing for the fact that we will scrap 53 planes of 160 early, we'd still be looking at £30bn or more.

Amazingly, however, the MoD tells the NAO that it expects to pay no more than £13.1bn to keep its fleet flying until the end of its life. As the auditors dryly note, "Living within the support cost budget will be challenging". They point up some problems in particular:

The Department is confident that it can deliver the full range of support for the reduced number of aircraft within the originally approved figure of £13.1 billion.

Risks remain ... prices on Typhoon contracts are negotiated with United Kingdom industry on a non-competitive basis under longstanding agreements which enable industry to recover agreed overhead costs. The Strategic Defence and Security Review accelerated the retirement of Harrier to April 2011 and committed to reduce the Tornado fleet by half by 2015 with consequent reductions on work placed with industry. Unless industry is incentivised to restructure to manage this reduced workflow there is a risk that, under the existing arrangements, the costs of under-utilised industry assets will be re-charged to the Department on its remaining contracts – notably Typhoon ...

The collaborative arrangements present serious challenges if the Department is to upgrade and support the aircraft quickly and cost-effectively ...

And indeed the MoD, referring to its pie-in-the-sky £13.1bn estimate of Typhoon support costs, admits in a very small footnote:

[Estimates of support] costs exclude ... the impact of Strategic Defence and Security Review decisions and the impact of changes to industry overheads.

Or, put more plainly, the £13.1bn support costs figure is rubbish: but nobody at the MoD cares as this will only become apparent some years down the road and thus it will be Somebody Else's Problem. The "conspiracy of optimism" is plainly still alive and well at MoD Main Building.

When the cost overruns begin, even though everyone in the MoD who cares must be well aware or at the very least suspect that they're going to happen, nobody will get in trouble for concocting these fictitious budget plans – because nobody is responsible for them. Yes, you read that right. As the NAO puts it:

A key issue is that there is no individual who is accountable and clearly in charge of the whole project.

So there you have it. For more than 20 years the Eurofighter has paralysed the British armed forces, draining budgets, taking resources away from more useful things, costing more than Trident or a fleet of space shuttles twice the size of NASA's. Its long, drawn-out, agonising procurement process is finally drawing to a close; we finally have decentish non-stealth fighters protecting the UK after the many years in which the dismal Tornado F3 was our only defence (funnily enough we scrapped large numbers of those almost unused, too).

But now we will spend billions more to make the Typhoon into a deep-strike bomber, a role it will be able to carry out usefully for about three years. The odds are good that the Typhoon will never drop a bomb in combat. But it has, nonetheless, already deposited a massive obvious timebomb in the Defence budget – one which will go off at some point down the road whenever anyone at the MoD finally plucks up the courage to admit that the support costs figure has been deliberately lowballed.

It would be lovely to think that we can all forget about the Eurofighter now, that its malign effects on the whole UK defence establishment – indeed, the whole UK government, when you reflect on the history of the Saudi buy and associated events – are finally diminishing.

But it's not true. This albatross will be around our necks for many years yet. ®

Bootnotes

1That was the original order when the project kicked off, and the price has not gone down – just the numbers of jets.

2Development and procurement cost of the Raptor for 183 useable jets is stated at approximately $62bn by the US air force, putting each jet at $339m.

3To be fair, the MoD now plans to transfer some of the equipment onto newer jets: but £85m was spent fitting it to the Tranche 1s, and presumably a similar amount will go on transferring it to the later aircraft. The decision to put ground attack kit on Tranche 1 at all remains almost unbelievable, given that most of the planes will go out of service never having been flown by a pilot capable of flying ground attack missions.

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