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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Eurofighter Conundrum

The problems associated with the development of the F-35 fighter program are well known. The problems associated with its main competitor are not well known to the American public. U.S politicians constantly complain (particularly democrats) about our 5th generation fighter programs but fail to see the spectacular failures of less advanced and yet, MORE EXPENSIVE aircraft built by our allies. For example, the Eurofighter Typhoon costs more per unit than a F-35A and is LESS capable.

These spectacular failures don't diminish the problems of the F-35 program, they merely add perspective. This article makes the case that buyers of the Eurofighter should seriously consider switching to the F-35 assuming they have strong enough diplomatic ties with the United States.

Head to Head Comparison

From this chart it initially seems as if the Eurofighter surpasses the F-35 in many categories. However, this initial glance is deceptive for three reasons. One, many of the initial figures will change in regards to the F-35 because they are currently classified. You may notice the + symbol near some of the figures or the outright "classified" designation in the rate of climb category. The U.S government does not want to publicly disclose all of the information about its latest jet just yet. They did the same thing for the F-22A raptor. More information has been released about the raptor since it entered service and I expect the same will hold true for the F-35.

Secondly, the F-35 is literally a generation ahead of the Eurofighter when it comes to avionics. The Eurofighter currently lacks AESA radar. Although it will be upgraded with an AESA system latter on (developed by Thales)it will have nowhere near the number of transmit/receive modules as the AN/APG-81.

Thirdly, this is the main reason why the F-35 is superior to the Eurofighter, STEALTH. This concept cannot be emphasized enough. Stealth varies and by no means equates to total invisibility BUT the unique capabilities gained from a heavily reduced radar cross section are invaluable in a dogfight and when confronted with advanced integrated air defense systems. To demonstrate this point, I included detection range by SU-35S near the bottom of the table. The SU-35S,a highly capable 4.5 generation fighter developed by the Russian Federation, is equipped with NIIP irbis-E radar system. The NIIP irbis-E would detect and be able to engage the Eurofighter at 150 miles away while it would not be able to detect the F-35 until it was 28 miles away. This is the difference between life and death.

Although the two aircraft have never officially undertaken simulated dogfights against one another, French Rafales (4.5 delta wing canard fighters very similar to the Eurofighter) fought F-22A raptors (which share many similarities to the F-35).In the dogfight, the F-22A raptors emerged victorious. The simulated dogfight occurred within visual range of each other.(The following is quoted from Arabian Aerospace).

"Lt Col Lansing Pilch, commander of the 27th, and of the F-22 deployment to Al Dhafra, was categoric in stating his view of the Raptor’s performance during the exercise. He confirmed that the six Raptors flew undefeated, against all opponents. Pilch said: 'In every test we did, the Raptors just blew the competition out of the water.'”

Given that the F-35 is slightly cheaper than the Eurofighter, AND has stealth capabilities plus more advanced avionics, the F-35 is the clear choice between the two.

1.)Global Security;
2.)Air Power Australia;
3.)Lockheed Martin;

Additional Reading:

Rising Fighter Aircraft Costs

USAF Fighter Aircraft Cost over time 1945-2011

The dates listed are references to how much each aircraft was worth at that time followed by a; with the modern equivalent in 2011 dollars. The dates do not reflect when the aircraft went into service.

P-51 Mustang $50,000 (1945); $627,005.56 (2011)
F-86A Sabre $178,408 (1950); $1,670,979.69 (2011)
F-4C Phantom II $1,900,000 (1965); $13,614,977.78 (2011)
F-15A Eagle $27,900,000 (1998); $38,635,851.53 (2011)
F-22A Raptor $150,000,000 (2009); $157,820,329.36 (2011)
F-35A Lighting II $122,000,000 (2011)

BAF Fighter Aircraft Cost over time 1939-2011

Note: the following figures are already adjusted for inflation and converted from their original respective currencies i.e. pounds or euros. The dates after the arrow indicated when each aircraft went into service.

Supermarine Spitfire $800,971.69 (2011) ->1939
Harrier Jump Jet $23,000,000 (2011) -> 1969
Panavia Tornado $29,393,436.93 (2011) -> 1979
Eurofighter Typhoon $141,784,192.02 (2011) ->2003
F-35A Lighting II $122,000,000 (2011)

Russian Air force Fighter Aircraft Cost over time 1959-2010
Note: the following figures were not adjusted to 2011 dollars as references for these date of each dollar equivalent could not be found with the exception of the SU-35S and Pak FA T-50

Mig-21 $1,500,000 (2011) -> 1959
Mig-29 $29,000,000 (2011) -> 1982
SU-27 $30,000,000 (2011) -> 1984
SU-35S $65,000,000 (2011) -> 2005
PAK FA T-50 $100,000,000 (2011) -> 2010


Since their inception over the skies of Western Europe during World War I, fighter aircraft have become more technologically advanced and capable with each newer generation. But as a result of this increased capability comes an astronomical increase in cost. For the most part, the astronomical increase in price HAS been worth the near exponential increase in capabilities. During World War II, hundreds of B-29 Super Fortress' dropped thousands of bombs in a saturation attempt to often hit one factory. Today, a single B-2 Spirit can hit 16 different targets with JDAM 2,000 pound GPS guided munitions while remaining undetected by the enemy. The same increase in cost and lethality is true for fighter aircraft.

The F-15 Eagle is the most decorated fighter in modern history with an unparalleled 104 to ZERO kill ratio. Although the F-15 costs much more than its predecessor the F-4 Phantom II, its service record PROVES that its increased lethality justified its cost. In the same way, the latest generation of stealth aircraft will be justified. In mock dogfights, veteran F-15C and F-16C pilots are pitted against F-22A raptor pilots. Raptor pilots commonly fight 4 to 5 F-15Cs and "don't break a sweat" according to one pilot. This is one RAAF pilot who describes fighting F-22As during a Red Flag exercise in 2007.

"'I can’t see the [expletive deleted] thing,” said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron. “It won’t let me put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me.'”- Austrian Exchange pilot, Red Flag 2007, from Defense Industry Daily

Currently, the F-22A holds a 144-1 kill ratio in simulated dogfights. Its cheaper less capable cousin the F-35, is "400%" more capable than any 4th generation fighter according to the USAF.

In conclusion, aircraft with continue to become more technologically advanced and as a result, become much more expensive. Despite what politicians say, this trend has been going on since the creation of fighter aircraft. And in my view, the increase in cost of these aircraft is worth their increase in capability (F-22A and F-35A not the Eurofighter, a separate article will discuss that in detail). It simply means that we require less aircraft to get the job done which is a major bonus for logistical support.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Sources

I realize I haven't posted as much and that will change. In the mean time, here are some of the sources I use for defense related news and background information.

Asian Politics/Chinese military

General Defense News


General Background Information

My Favorite Authors on political and military developments

Fareed Zakaria
David Axe
Bill Sweetman