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Lord Garden: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for arranging this opportunity to review the progress of the introduction of Eurofighter Typhoon. I declare a past interest: I served on the air staff in the late 1980s and early 1990s, under the noble and gallant Lord's leadership, and we were often interested in the progress of this project.

As the noble and gallant Lord said, we can track progress back over a very long period. One can look at the origins in the air staff target laid down in 1972 for an air superiority fighter. The changing nomenclature gives us a feel for the complexity of bringing the deal to fruition. We had ECA (European Combat Aircraft), ECF (European Combat Fighter), ACA (Agile Combat Aircraft), EAP (European Aircraft Programme), FEFA (Future European Fighter Aircraft), EFA (European Fighter Aircraft), Eurofighter, EF2000 and now Typhoon. We had a three-nation collaborative programme with France and Germany at the start, but in the end our requirements differed too much. The French requirement to be able to operate from an aircraft carrier perhaps looks more foresighted now than it did then. The 1980s saw the entry of Italy and Spain into the partnership as we lost France.

In looking back at this long and challenging programme we must remember the important part that technology demonstrators played in how it was put together. The EAP demonstrator prototype flew in 1985, just over two years after the production contract was let. That demonstrator had nearly six years of flying, which allowed much of the development work to be tested before going final on the Eurofighter itself. It was perhaps overconfident, although it did not seem so at the time, to rename the aircraft Eurofighter 2000 in late 1992. The first development aircraft flew in 1994, the tranche one contract was signed in late 1998 and the first instrument production aircraft flights took place in April 2002. The formal delivery of aircraft to the four nations took place in June last year, and, as we have heard from the Minister, we have now signed up for the second tranche.

Some commentators look at this long history as though the Eurofighter is a legacy system of the Cold War, but that assessment is absolutely wrong. We can be proud that we have produced an appropriate capability for the current security challenges. In the Cold War we faced a geographically well defined threat, which required long-range air interception. The F3 Tornado was an appropriate capability for that. Now the agile fighter, with an ability to use a range of
 
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smart weapons systems, is an important part of any nation's armoury. The long history of development and testing of the technology has allowed that capability to adapt to the changing requirement. So it is not a legacy system; it is an up-to-date system.

We might have gone down the same route as the Americans did of producing a very high cost stealth fighter optimised against a Soviet threat. We see that in the United States F22 Raptor. There have been unclassified reports of simulated combat using the various options available today, ranging from the F22 to cheaper fighters. If you put an F22 against a Sukhoi Su-35 in unclassified informal tests in network simulators, you manage to shoot down 10 Su-35s for every F22 that you lose. If you do it with Eurofighter you manage to shoot down 4.5 aircraft for every Typhoon that you lose. The next best air superiority capability using the same missile systems is the Rafale, which shares a one-for-one exchange rate. F15s, F18s and F16s are all less than unity. We are buying one of the best capabilities. Those are unclassified results, but they give an idea of the order of the advance in our performance and what we are getting.

I wish to deal briefly with the question of price, because it is often said that this is an expensive capability. All modern combat aircraft are expensive, but we are getting an extraordinary capability at what seems a good price. It is difficult to predict the ultimate cost of any particular aircraft system without knowing what the Minister and his Government will do about tranche three. One must spread the costs of development over the total fleet. Nevertheless, one can cost it from the price charged to the Austrians, whose aircraft is reported to cost 62 million euros a copy. I imagine that ours will be slightly more expensive. According to the Minister's figures for tranche two, given in his statement and his letter, the cost is about £50 million a copy or thereabouts.

By comparison, the latest figures for the F22 are 42 billion dollars for the 276 that they originally planned to buy—152 million dollars each. But they are going to reduce those numbers, so the price will rise, making each aircraft even more expensive. Despite the fall in the dollar, Eurofighter's capability will be extraordinarily good value for money. That has serious implications for its ability as an export product, when other nations look at where they want to go with that sort of aircraft.

Although the Eurofighter is good value in military aircraft terms, there is still the question of costs. As we all know, it is a time of enormous strain on the defence budget. I assume that the Minister will search for ways to keep costs down. Convincing more of our allies to buy Eurofighter would be a good starting point. In that respect we are missing a great opportunity for encouraging sales, while at the same time reducing our own operating costs and increasing overall European capabilities.

The four nations that have now committed will get nearly 400 aircraft. If tranche three goes ahead—we will perhaps talk about that on Monday—the figure
 
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will rise to more than 600. That is a serious capability for Europe, which the United States will really take notice of. If we looked at ways to operate the fleet on a more shared basis, there could be significant cost savings in maintenance logistics and training. It would also have the advantage of smaller European air forces being able to operate a few aircraft put into the bigger pool without having to set up the infrastructure normally associated with high-performance aircraft.

Some of that opportunity has already been lost as the four nations have set up their own national arrangements. I do not doubt that in years to come we shall be under great resource pressure; we will look for ways to co-operate and rationalise beyond our own shores. I would like us to consider at some stage operating the Eurofighter force more as a pooled fleet; after all, we are prepared to do it with the Trident missile system with the US. I understand the political difficulties at this stage, but we must not freeze out the option. In that regard we can learn from our experience with the Tornado. In the end, we had to give up the tri-national unit on the Tornado at RAF Cottesmore because each nation had independently modified its Tornado fleet so much that there was not enough commonality in the systems to make common training useful any more. I ask the Minister to look hard at the advantages of keeping all nations' Eurofighters modified to a common standard so that the advantages of shared costs are still open to be exploited if we need to.

When the Minister reports on the progress of the programme, I trust that he will include an update on the state of simulator support. After the problems with the Apache programme over the provision of simulation, we need to ensure that it is coming on-stream for the Eurofighter in the right timescale.

Simulation has other important benefits. The use of network simulators will make training time much more productive. While aircrew will continue to need training time in the air, we have argued for many years that technology will change the balance of that time in the cockpit and the time in the simulator. That will have not only cost benefits but environmental benefits as well. Perhaps the Minister could indicate how the balance will be changed by the introduction of Eurofighter with its simulators into service.

The reduction in fast-jet numbers under the latest RAF drawdown will presumably have eased the shortage of pilots. However, we are looking now at the introduction of Eurofighter, the continuation of Tornado F3 for a slight overlap, the continuation of Tornado GR4, and then the Harrier/JSF transition to come. All of that will require a sustainable long-term plan for sufficient numbers of fast-jet aircrew. I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the current plans will be able to sustain the necessary numbers.

In addition, if we are moving towards a smaller fleet of aircraft overall, they will need to be used as efficiently as possible. So perhaps there is a case for raising the aircrew-to-aircraft ratio. Are we looking at that, and what plans does the Minister have?
 
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We on these Benches very much welcome the precision attack capability development. This is not just an air superiority fighter but will be capable of air-to-ground missions. That raises another question. How do we organise those different capabilities? It appears that we are still looking at having different air defence and ground attack squadrons and specialisations. Is that sensible any more? Are we looking at crews being multi-roled rather than specialised as they have been in the past? We need to be thinking of more imaginative approaches in the light of the experiences of other nations and the new changing requirements we have in terms of the operations we do.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister. He has had responsibility for defence procurement, seeing the first tranche into service and signing the contract for the second tranche. This is an important defence capability. The technology has been developed within Europe and the export potential is significant.


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