Anti-Eurofighter Downing Street e-petition started
Pay taxes and/or support our troops? You should sign
Comment A petition urging Prime Minister (for the moment) Gordon Brown to cease all further spending on the controversial Eurofighter Typhoon third tranche has appeared on the Downing Street website. The petition could gain substantial support among the army, the navy and those who support them: it's unlikely to find favour with the air force community.
Climbs fast and high: Like the price.
For those not in the know, the Eurofighter project is a collaboration between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. It began in 1985, and was intended to produce an air-to-air superiority fighter which could take on the last generation of Soviet superjets above the postulated conventional battlefields of Europe should the Cold War have turned hot.
Almost from the outset, the Eurofighter started to miss cost and time targets. In the 1990s the project was renamed "Eurofighter 2000" in an attempt to disguise the fact that it had originally been meant to produce some planes by 1995. This ploy backfired badly, however, as the year 2000 came and went without the arrival of any jets.
The RAF finally stood up a Eurofighter unit in 2005, and the plane was declared operational for air-defence duties in 2007 - over two decades after its inception. Some of the initial Tranche 1 and 2 jets have since been modified with Israeli-made target designation pods and the ability to drop smartbombs, allowing the aircraft to have some relevance to modern battles against enemies without significant air forces. However, this is regarded by the RAF as an "austere" capability.
In one word, what's wrong with the British armed forces these days? That word is Eurofighter.
As to cost, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in recent years estimated the entire planned British buy of 232 jets at £20bn, putting each plane at £86m. (Any lesser figure can be produced only by very creative accounting.) However, it is widely acknowledged that the RAF cannot in fact use more than 120-odd jets plus some attrition spares. Meanwhile, it is also well known that the RAF would like a much more capable strike capability than the "austere" option currently on offer. The cost to the UK taxpayer of enhancing Tranche 3 aircraft in this way has been reported as an additional £5bn.
In the worst possible case, with the UK taking 232 jets, mothballing 90+ permanently, and paying to enhance Tranche 3, the price paid per aircraft used in RAF service could beat £180m. Depending on exchange rates, this would make UK Eurofighters even more expensive than the American F-22 Raptor stealth ultrafighter - and considerably less capable.
However, the UK has already arranged to sell some of its Eurofighters on to the Saudis, and is trying to shift more to other customers. Sadly it's clear that these sales will involve more capable aircraft from the later manufacture tranches, as nobody else wants single-role air to air fighters any more either. It may be hard to get any sales at all: former BAE chief Mike Turner has lately appealed to the MoD to "finish the job" on multi-roling Eurofighter so as to make it saleable.
Bottom line, then: the Eurofighters which fly with the RAF will have cost us somewhere between £100m and £150m each depending how many of the mothball fleet we can sell off. All or most of them will be pure air-superiority fighters, completely lacking in the Stealth technology now beginning to be seen as vital in that field, with "austere" strike capability bolted on. We will have spent more to get this rather irrelevant capability than it will cost to replace the national nuclear deterrent. The Eurofighter quite simply dwarfs all other major equipment projects at present - the new carriers for the navy are a matter of peanuts by comparison.
More than any other single thing, the Eurofighter is the cause of the terrible financial paralysis now gripping our armed forces. More than any other single thing, the Eurofighter is the reason why our fighting men and women overseas don't have the helicopters and transport planes they need, and why they get paid so abysmally badly.
The Eurofighter is also the reason that the Royal Navy may never be allowed to re-acquire proper fleet carrier capability. This despite the fact that the lack of that capability caused almost all the losses and casualties we suffered in the Falklands, and the very salient fact that every time a British fighter has shot down an enemy aircraft since WWII, that fighter took off from a carrier to do so.
But we don't have to have Tranche 3. The Treasury, at least, believe that we could simply pull out of it and save money, regardless of possible penalties under our agreement with the partner nations. Only Prime Minister Brown's personal intervention is keeping UK Tranche 3 alive at present.
That's why your correspondent has signed the petition - though the No.10 website doesn't say so yet for some reason. Any readers who pay British taxes or support the British fighting forces might consider signing up as well. ®
We didn't start the petition. Reg reader Patrick Seurre did.