Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Typhoon for Canada?

Well...  Why not?
Let's get this out of the way:  I am a huge fan of the Eurofighter Typhoon.  I you were to ask the 12-year-old me to draw a picture of a jet fighter, it would look almost exactly like a Typhoon (it would probably have the F-18's twin tails though).  Researching this blog has deepened my respect for it even further.  Tales of the Typhoon having "Raptor Salad" for lunch, the long list of planned improvements, and even the thought of the RCAF flying the same aircraft as the RAF conjures up images of Canadian aces flying Sopwith Camels and Spitfires in the two World Wars.

So why isn't this blog called Typhoon4Canada?

The BAe EAP (Experimental Aircraft Program)
Put simply, the Eurofighter Typhoon was born out of a common desire by major European countries to keep their home grown fighter aircraft tradition alive.  While they were once the proud developers of legendary aircraft like the Sopwith Camel, Fokker Triplane, Supermarine Spitfire and Me 262; Britain, Germany, Spain, and Italy started to realize that more and more of their military aircraft had the "Made in the U.S.A." sticker on them.

Europe was already seeing the benefits of joint ventures between countries.  The SEPECAT Jaguar was the result of British and French cooperation, and the Panavia Tornado was built as a joint venture between the U.K, West Germany, and Spain.  With the relative success of these projects, it was only natural for an even more ambitious project to design and build a world class fighter.  Britain, West Germany, France, Spain, and Italy would all pool their resources together to create the "Eurofighter".

The program had more than its fair share of "hiccups".  France, unable to convince the other nations to allow Dassault to take a leading role, left the project early on to develop its own fighter, the Rafale.  Later in development.  Germany, now reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was facing financial hardships and would have pulled out as well if there wasn't such a penalty (which, oddly enough, was placed in the contract at West Germany's insistence).  Military budget cuts as the Cold War came to an end, as well as the usual challenges of bringing four different nations together in one project.

More about the troubled development of the Eurofighter Typhoon can be found in the documentary:  "Weapon of Mass Construction".  It can be found on YouTube:  Part One  and  Part Two

The pride of Western Europe's skies.
So was it worth the effort?  The Typhoon was a certainly a successful design.  For all intents and purposes, the aircraft is a "Hot Rod".  It's engines produce about the same amount of power as a Super Hornet, yet the Typhoon is smaller and weighs 25% less.  It's large delta wing and canard configuration produces far more lift than the Super Hornet as well.  The Typhoon's shape makes it inherently unstable, allowing for quicker manoeuvrability aided by its computer assisted flight controls.  Also, the Typhoon is one of the few aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier without the use of afterburner, also known as "supercruise".

A Typhoon show of its PIRATE infra-red sensor.

On the offensive side, the aircraft is more than capable of holding its own.  Currently equipped with one of the best non-AESA radars, the CAPTOR-M, the Typhoon has a great detection range.  For close up fights, it carries the Passive Infra-Red Airborne Track Equipmen (PIRATE) that enables it to lock on to its enemy's heat signature.  It also utilizes a helmet mounted display and voice controls to help keep the pilot's eyes on his opponent.
The Typhoon's weapon selection.

With 13 hardpoints capable of holding 16,500lbs worth of missiles and bombs, the Typhoon certainly has bite.  It is capable of carrying just about anything in the NATO arsenal, including the new MBDA Meteor.  It is also armed with a 27mm "Mauser" cannon (the same fitted to the Gripen) for when the missiles run out.

Despite its trouble beginning, the Eurofighter Typhoon has made quite a name for itself.  Deployed over the skies of Libya, it provided air-superiority duties while other fighters performed ground attack roles.

More impressively, the Typhoon has made a name for itself with its performance in mock combat exercises with dissimilar jet fighters.  Not only has it proven victorious over the 4th generation (and much celebrated) F-15 Eagle, but it has also scored simulated kills on the 5th generation (and supposedly king of the skies) F-22 Raptor.

The "Typhoon 2020".

What about the future?  Well, the Typhoon has enjoyed some recent sales to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  This has encouraged further development for more advanced features for future versions, such as an AESA version of its CAPTOR radar and conformal fuel tanks for extended range.  The Typhoon's EJ-200 engines may be upgraded to produce 30% more power with the possibility of thrust-vectoring engines for even greater maneuverability.

So with a resume like that, why isn't this blog called "Typhoon4Canada"?

For one, even though the Typhoon is billed as a "multi-role" fighter, it is first and foremost an air superiority machine.  Part of the reason France left the project is that it required a more "well rounded" aircraft capable of ground attack and operating off of a carrier.  Although the Typhoon is capable of ground attack, its current radar and other systems are simply not optimized for it.  This is likely to improve in the future, but the fact remains that the Typhoon is a dogfighter first, "bomb truck" second.

More seriously, the Eurofighter Typhoon is expensive.  Not only is its expensive to procure (some sources claim about $143 million a piece), but it is estimated to have a rather high operating cost of about $18,000 per hour.  Of course, this is still cheaper than the F-35's estimated $21,000 per hour, but far higher than the Saab Gripen's $4700 per hour.  The Typhoon also has a history of parts shortages keeping planes from being ready.

Typhoon demonstrator showing off Spanish, Italian, British, and German markings.

Of course, there is always the chance of manufacturing offsets.  The Eurofighter Consortium consists of a lot of companies that could probably be coaxed into doing business in Canada and help bring high paying jobs into the Canadian economy.  Of course, we must remember that Eurofighter's original purpose was to benefit Europe's aerospace industry over others.  Control over the Typhoon's development and jobs created were directly linked to how many fighters each member country bought.  With a relatively small number of jets being purchased, Canada would likely be delegated as a "junior partner" with little say in future development.

Would the Typhoon be a good fighter for Canada?  Absolutely.  It has a proven track record and should be considered one of the top jet fighters of this day and age.  It's planned improvements should keep it in top form for the foreseeable future.  Many would say it is a better fit for Canada than the Gripen or the F-35 thanks to its twin engines and superior air-to-air capabilities.  It would be hard to for me to argue these points.

Perhaps the Eurofighter Typhoon would be the right jet fighter for Canada under the right conditions.  "If" Canada was able to procure the Typhoon for a reasonable cost...  "If" flying costs could be brought down to more manageable levels...  "If" Canada could barter a deal guaranteeing plenty of industrial offsets or even manufacturing the fighter here...  "If" the Typhoon's systems could be modified to improve its ground attack capability...

That's a lot of "If"s.  Maybe, like the EF-18G Growler, the Typhoon might be a better choice if it was flown as part of a mixed force, rather than Canada's sole jet fighter.  Indeed, with a mixed force of EF-18Gs and Typhoons, the RCAF could boast a fleet of "Raptor Killers".

But then again, the Gripen E/F offers a lot of what the Typhoon has to offer, only in a more affordable and more versatile package.


  1. My sentiments exactly. The Eurofighter is an incredible fighter, perhaps the best air superiority fighter the West has to offer. But given Canada's one-fighter policy coupled with the Eurofighter's cost and less flexible air-to-ground capabilities, I don't think it's the right one for Canada. As a mixed fleet? Absolutely, go Eurofighters and something else. But if you need a one-size-fits-all fighter, I think the Gripen E/F is a better fit than the Eurofighter.

    I actually think that a mixed fleet of Eurofighters (for air superiority), Growlers (electronic attack), and Super Hornets (bomb-haulers) would make for a pretty formidable fighting force. However, I highly doubt Canada would go that route.

    What are your thoughts on the Rafale? I think it, too, is a stellar fighter, but my understanding is that it's been designed to use French weapons and most of the weapons Canada currently stockpiles could not be fitted. This is my chief objection to a Rafale procurement. But for the compatibility issue, I think it would be a very tough decision to choose one or the other.

  2. The Rafale is like the neglected "middle child" of the eurocanards. The Typhoon has the rep for being a great dogfighter, while the Gripen has its "bang for the buck". The Rafale seems like it would be a compromise between the two, but it has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which I plan on addressing in a future post. (BTW I believe the Rafale can mount standard NATO weapons like the Sidewinder and AMRAAM, but may require additional cost to do so).

    I agree with you about Canada procuring a mixed fleet. It just isn't going to happen. Buying 2 or 3 different airframes with overlapping capabilities may make sense from a military standpoint, but it would be hard to explain that to the taxpayers. There's simply too many projects on the "to do" list. Icebreakers, supply ships, etc.

    If the Super Hornet is chosen, the Growler would be an easy sell, since it is simply a variant. A Gripen/Growler force would share a common engine design, but would still probably be a tough sell. Other than that, a better route might be to supplement fast fighters with a dedicated Close-Air-Support platform, perhaps based on the BAe Hawk or buying some A-10s from the U.S. This could also give the Snowbirds something new to fly.

  3. Reader from Sweden here. Needless to say, I like your site =-)

    As for the S-Hornet/Growler combo, this is something we are thinking about in Sweden as well, but with the Gripen F being developed to act as a Growler. The (first?) domestic order of Gripen NG:s looks like it will be all "E:s" of course, but if the politics here at home changes (there are some signs that it does) and/or there is a demand outside of Sweden for a Growlerized "F", this might very well happen.

    When one chooses not to go down the stealth route (and there are many good reasons for that in a one-aircraft airforce) but still wants to be aggressive in the face of modern air defenses, a dedicated fighter-jammer capability is critical. Sweden used to have it in the "Viggen SK 37E"* (a converted twin-seater), and there was a plan to make the 39D in the same role. A 39F would be even better though, as it has the range and performance to lug all that kit around.


    1. Thank you for post upandawy1.

      I wasn't aware of any plans to make a specialized "Growler" version of the Gripen, other than adding the usual ECM pods. I believe that this is one area where a Canadian partnership with Saab could greatly benefit both sides. The U.S. has historically been very protective of its Electronic Warfare technology and would likely only license it to certain countries. Needless to say, Canada might have an easier time gaining access to that technology than Sweden. (especially given the troubles Saab had with licensing an American AESA radar for the Gripen). Not that I agree with this, but Canada has much more political influence with those in Washington D.C.

      If you have any links where I could find information on a proposed "Growler Gripen", I would greatly appreciate it for possible future posts! This is definitely an interesting subject.

    2. Agreed. Knowing that Canada would buy 100 or more Gripen Es would certainly help with the development costs. It could also, potentially, allow for more a better Gripen E with more money to put into the project, as well as keep procurement costs down by spreading them over a wider buyer area.

  4. Well, there are only hints of what *was* planned, since everything was dropped due to the Swedish defense budget being under a bit of pressure at the moment... To use an understatement. If it would be a direct analog of the Growler I do not know, but most things point in that direction. Most of my links are in Swedish, but here is one in English:

    "“It’s a cost question,” Nystrom explained. “If we were to go with a two-seater, we’d like to have an enhanced back seat, and we don’t have the money for that.” Weapon system operator training would also consume more resources."

    And here's a pic from a SAAB presentation:

    Finally, here's the page I got them from, written by the (very knowledgeable) Signatory who used to post a lot in the Gripen News Thread (in Swedish):

    (For some reason, he stopped posting there quite abruptly, and half a year later started a blog (and a twitter account!) in the name of the thread. Only writes in Swedish tho, but it is quite interesting stuff. Never told anyone why he stopped posting in the thread, but I think it might have something to do with him working at SAAB and being a bit too liberal with up-to-date information.)

    Here's one link from another former Swedish Air Force pilot (who got fired from his job for blogging! But they don't do that anymore)(Swedish):

    And finally one where Yours Truly and and a blogger called Wiseman (current SwAF Pilot) have an argument in the comments about the back seat:

    As for the "pods", I'm no expert but I imagine it might be dicey to integrate the advanced pod your Big Southern Neighbour (you know the one) is developing. Not for technical reasons, but considering the high probability that SAAB:s engineers will be allowed nowhere near it.

    But perhaps the interface in these are similar enough to each other that it can be done, and Canadians persuasive enough that it can happen! This you know better than me. I would imagine that SAAB have ideas of their own in this area, they're no slouches when it comes EW and jamming.

    As for the hiccup with the AESA: Well, things are a lot better now than they used to be. I don't know the details of the agreements Sweden and USA have now, but seem to be a lot more solid now than they used to be. Remember, we got the approval for the AESA in the end, it was only delayed for tactical reasons until after the Norwegian competition was finished.

    Before, Sweden got burned by USA when trying to sell the Viggen abroad (which USA vetoed), so now I think that any part sourced from USA need to come with little or no strings attached if we are going to buy it. I think there are enough choices being available for parts nowadays that USA has to behave a bit more in this arena. Also, there are Swedish parts in most USAF planes, and in all the other European fighters as well, so there's leverage from that.

    And then there's stuff like this:

    1. Thanks for the information and the links! It definitely gives me some reading material to keep me busy for the next little while...

      Canada is certainly in good position when it comes to appropriating more "sensitive" military technology from the U.S. Canada was on the of countries deemed "acceptable" for potential foreign F-22 sales (not that we could afford them). I believe that we are also one of the few countries that would be able to buy the EF-18G Growler if we choose to do so. The real question is if we would be able to purchase Growler's "Next Generation Jammer" and fit it to the airframe of our choice.

      The U.S. and Canada are indeed close partners, but it is most certainly a two-way street. America's economy and way of life would be very different were it not for Canada's surplus of energy and natural resources. Given our proximity and close relationship, it is simply in the U.S.A.'s best interest to allow Canada to be able to defend ourselves as well as possible. They would prefer we do it with their equipment, of course, but that doesn't always happen.

      Basically, if Canada wouldn't be able to equip a fleet of Gripens with American jamming tech. nobody could.