The British counterpart of the GAO, the National Audit Office (NAO), reviews programs across the UK government, and recently, it has completed a comprehensive review of the EF-2000 Typhoon fighterplane program. The NAO’s conclusion? The EF-2000 program is an utter waste of money.
The Register (www.register.co.uk) reports that, according to the NAO, the EF-2000 has not only experienced serious cost overruns during the lifetime of the program, but also, due to large order cuts, the obsolescence of this fighterplane, its high demand for spare parts and maintenance work, and its other faults, UK taxpayers will get only 160 such aircraft in total, of which only 107 will be available at any one time, because the others will be retired as obsolete and/or cannibalized to provide for spare parts for younger EF-2000s. Another problem is that, because the program is split between four countries, costs are high and spare parts are hard to obtain. The aircraft is capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, and has been repeatedly called on to defend British airspace against Russian bombers. But, as I wrote, the UK will never have more than 107 of such aircraft available at any one time, will receive only 160 in total, and the entire EF-2000 fleet will be retired in a few decades, anyway.
The Register compared the EF-2000 type to the F-22 type. The Raptor cost almost $62 bn to develop, but even at this cost, even if R&D costs are included, a single F-22 cost only $339 mn, as compared to a single EF-2000 ($350 mn)*. The Raptor’s real unit cost (the flyaway cost) is $130 mn per plane, as opposed to over $132 mn per one EF-2000. F-22s are stealthy (whereas EF-2000s are not), are the stealthiest aircraft on the planet (they have an RCS the size of a metal marble), and can do thrust-vectoring (whereas EF-2000s cannot). When the last Raptor is delivered, the USAF will have a total fleet of 184 F-22s. These aircraft are defending America’s airspace but also have been deployed to Korea last year, and when they were, Kim Jong Il reportedly hid in his bunker, scared that F-22s might enter NK’s airspace.
This EF-2000 Typhoon failure, and the huge cost imposed on the MOD (and thus on British taxpayers), is the result of the Major-Blair policy of embarking on, investing in, and continuing costly European “penis pride” programs which pointlessly duplicate American programs: the EF-2000, the Boxer, the Galileo, the Meteor missile, etc. The participating countries decided to waste their small defense budgets on these duplicative, technologically-inferior programs even though they could have (and still could) buy superior, cheaper weapons from the United States – an ally who has always been there for them. Or, alternatively, from France, which produces high-quality, albeit costly, weapons. In the case of fighterplanes, the MOD could’ve bought one (or a combination) of the following:
- F-35s. Britain has actually ordered a small number of F-35Cs, but alongside, not instead of, EF-2000s. Had Britain (which has been a partner in this program ever since it was started, has contributed $2 bn to it, and remains the only “Level 1 partner”, standardized on the F-35 type as the sole fighterplane type for the RAF and the RN, it would’ve saved a lotof money not only on unit costs, but also as a result of standardization. The F-35 program has experienced its share of cost overruns and delays, but none on the scale experienced by the EF-2000 program.
- F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. These aircraft are combat-proven, having flown from USN carrier decks over Afghanistan, and represent Generation #4.75. They’re not as good as F-35s will be, but they’re very good and decisively superior to EF-2000s. As with F-35s, standardizing on them would bring about large savings – even larger savings with Super Hortners, because a single such airplane costs only $55 mn. Of course, they can fly from carriers and land bases alike.
- F-16s. They are technologically obsolete today, as they were designed and introduced during the 1970s, but they’re small, extremely maneuverable, extremely agile, require only short runways, could be navalized, and are very cheap – one such plane costs less than $40 mn. They’re no match for the latest Russian and Chinese designs, but if the UK really needs to save money while maintaining a large ground-based fighterplane fleet, this would be the best solution for Britain. F-16s are combat proven, having served during both Gulf Wars, the Afghan war, and Operation Noble Eagle. In Iraq, an F-16 killed Al-Zarqawi in 2006.
- Dassault Rafale. One such plane costs 62-64 mn EUR, but it’s a very good, extremely maneuverable, extremely agile, combat-proven (it has flown over Afghanistan from land bases and from FS CHarles de Gaulle) fighterplane type. It exists in land-based and carrier-based variants.
Sadly, the British MOD never even considered withdrawing from the EF_2000 program and buying any of the forementioned aircraft types. Instead, it continued this project, with the high cost that it entails. And now, for all the money spent on it, the UK MOD will receive only 160 aircraft which will have to be maintained at a high annual cost, are technologically obsolete, are inferior to other contemporary fighterplanes, cannot fly from aircraft carriers, and will have to be retired in a few decades, anyway.
The optimal choice for the UK would’ve been the Super Hornet type. It combines all the right characteristics into one fighterplane: cheap ($55 mn), combat-proven (in Afghanistan), carrier-capable (that’s what it was created for), modern (developed in the 1990s, introduced in 1999), survivable, maneuverable, agile, versatile (it can fight enemies on the ground, in the air and at sea and also do other missions such as buddy-tanking), and most importantly, survivable. Not bad for a Generation 4.75 fighterplane type.