The Indian Fighter Competition and the Future of Eurofighter


06/29/2011 – While attending the Paris air show in June, Second Line of Defense sat down with a senior Eurofighter executive to discuss Eurofighter in the Indian fighter competition.  A special focus of our efforts has been upon the intersection between the future evolution of the Eurofighter and the Indian role in that future.

Rob Wells is the Export Future Business Manager for Eurofighter and is based in Germany.  Wells has a strong background within the program (from his time at BAE Systems) in avionics and flight control.  His current role is to work with customers on shaping future capabilities for the aircraft.

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Photo Credits: First Photo (Wells) SLD;

Remaining Photos Eurofighter

SLD: In analyzing the Indian decision with regard to which fighter aircraft to downselect, we have written that the Indians are focusing on selecting an aircraft, which forms the basis for a 30-year franchise.  From this point of view, they are interested not just in buying a platform, but an engagement in the evolution of that aircraft.  Is this your view as well?

Wells: Absolutely.

SLD: Could you describe the current approach to upgrading the aircraft?

Wells: With the four partner nations – UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain – it’s all managed on the customer side through a management agency called NETMA, or the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency. And they act on behalf of the Four Nations to harmonize their four sets of operational requirements.  We then act on behalf of the four partner companies on the industry side: BAE Systems in the UK, Alenia in Italy and Cassidian in Germany and Spain, to get a harmonized view from industry side.It’s really a four-into-one approach on each side of the fence – the industry side and the customer side. The agencies on both sides are responsible for the upgrade path.

SLD: NETMA provides a forum then within which harmonization of the requirements is sorted out so that the contributions of upgrades generated by any of the member nations can shape an upgrade path?

Wells: That’s right.  We get the customer agency’s future requirements and then we act on behalf of the partners on the industry side through the various contracts.  The content of those requirements can come from one, two, three or four nations, depending on the funding routes, who’s in custody of the upgrade and what and when they require it, we will then propose packages of upgrades that will accommodate all of those requirements as far into the future as is required. We don’t develop single products individually across the four nations, but shape a common approach.  And now we’ve got five and six nations with Austria and Saudi Arabia. The approach is to try to have a common approach for Eurofighter upgrades regardless of customer. We focus on generating high-tech solutions, help to develop new technologies across the Eurofighter partners and suppliers and develop an important economic impact to the partner nations.

SLD: India would then come in as a new partner, with a new assembly line, and their requirements would shape new funding and new opportunities for upgrading the aircraft, and adding new industrial possibilities?

Wells: Exactly.  If they’ve got money on the table to say we need this capability and this number of aircraft in this time frame, then those requirements would be dealt with, together with those of the existing partner nations.

SLD: Could you describe the immediate impact from Indian participation as a Eurofighter nation on the upgrade approach?

Wells: The immediate impact is that we will have a large set of operational requirements that we would need to fulfill in a pretty short time span. Currently, the only official future upgrade that is currently being funded is Meteor. There are indications that there will be additional new weapons, but funding is a problem. The list of requirements on the Indian RFP is considerable.  And they would need to be worked through to this upgrade program.  I think it’s fair to say that the proposal that we’ve made into India in terms of providing a Typhoon with the required capabilities is arguably 80 percent Indian requirements, 20 percent European requirements.  So they would influence considerably the future direction of the Eurofighter program.

SLD: So it is in Eurofighter’s interest to bring Indian industry up to speed on the program as rapidly as possible so that they can participate effectively in the overall upgrade process moving forward with the evolution of the aircraft?

Wells: We would see it from both sides, both from the customer side with extended operations on the ground and also from the industry side with fulfilling our obligations in a timely manner. Part of the technology transfer options that we’ve made into India are just that to bring the Indian industry up to speed, if you like, with the European industry as far as developing the aircraft is concerned.

SLD: If Eurofighter succeeds in the downselect, and India becomes a full participant, India could drive the evolution of the Eurofighter for Europe itself.  It becomes a two way street for the future of the aircraft.

Wells: I agree. If you look at Eurofighter as having a potential life of 40-50 years, it is still in development and only in service from end 2003.The overall ergonomics of the flight control system, the hydraulics, the electrics, all of the general systems are now mature, and relatively fixed.  Meeting the requirement of building an aircraft with an unstable aerodynamic configuration has been a challenging learning curve for us. But that is the sort of technology transfer we could hand over to the Indians so that they can learn how to, if they wish, develop a son of Typhoon or a future combat aircraft with unstable ergonomic capabilities.

They can as well help in the ongoing enhancements where the aircraft is undergoing continuous evolution. This includes areas such as sensors, range extension, new weapons, etc. Those are the kinds of enhancements that we’re now building into Eurofighter where it will physically look the same and it will physically fly the same.  But it will always have new technology as far as detection, tracking and exploitation of weapons is concerned. And again, that’s something that the Indian industry could get into relatively quickly.  So, we would see them as key participants in the process of enhancing the sensors, the weapons and so on over the short to medium term.

And then in the longer term, they could start to evaluate what it is that we need to do to build the next batch of fighters – perhaps enhancing the agility whilst maintaining carefree handling, etc. We can be doing real term development over the next decade or so. But we can also learn from what we’ve already done and learned the hard way in the past. And a combination of the two should give them a pretty good platform to develop their own aircraft from whenever they’re looking for over the next 20 to 30 years onwards.

Whether it is manned or unmanned, that’s another discussion, I guess.  But, the way we see it is we’ve spent a considerable sum baselining the aircraft to give it maximum potential for the future.  Now it’s a case of enhancing it with new sensor technology and new weapons technology – new roles in some cases, whether strike or reconnaissance. Again, it’s usually through sensor enhancement via RF or optic upgrades where the pilot’s receiving more information, better information, to enhance his decision-making ability. We’ve got a mature baseline system.  We’re willing to hand over the lessons learned from that development program,.  But we’re also continuing to develop the aircraft today for another 20 or more years. For the Indian industry to come in at this stage is good for India and good for the future evolution of Eurofighter. We have resolved the initial challenges experienced in the development and operation of the aircraft.  It’s now a combat proven aircraft.  But it’s still got a lot of growth left in it.