RAF No 11 Squadron Typhoon at Green Flag, USA

RAF No 11 Squadron Typhoon at Green Flag, USA (Source: Eurofighter)

The Japanese government must decide on the ASDF’s next-generation fighter by the end of this year, and the competition is fierce as the British Ambassador David Warren attempts to sell Japan on the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Mainichi reports:

“The Eurofighter is completely interoperable with U.S. military equipment,” Warren said in Japanese at a press conference held by BAE Systems — a co-developer of the Eurofighter — at the British Embassy in Tokyo on Feb. 2.

A BAE Systems representative also vowed that his company would never conceal any information from the Japanese industrial world, emphasizing the advantage of its aircraft over the F-35 fighter, which Japanese companies would not be allowed to build under license due to various technical secrets.

The front-runner for Japan’s choice to replace its F-4EJ Kai Phantom fleet is assumed to be the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested in his January visit (alongside the F/A-18 Hornet and F-15 Eagle.

Representatives, who manufacture the F/A-18 Hornet, had a dig at the Eurofighter and F-35′s unproven abilities in their own statement: “Our fighter jets have already been used in actual warfare and we can offer our products at affordable prices. We also have a long-term partnership with Japan’s defense industry.”

The highly-maneuverable Typhoon multi-role fighter entered service in the Royal Air Force in 2003, slowly replacing its aging Tornado and Jaguar fleet. It has also entered service in the Austria, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Spain. Development of the plane began in 1986 among a consortium of European defense industry giants: EADS, BAe and Alenia Aeronautica; and the project saw many stumbling blocks along the way: reunified Germany attempted to pull out to save on costs, all the nations involved reduced their order numbers, Britain’s naming suggestions (all coming from Second World War fighter names) and general German unwillingness to commit to the project over the mid-1990s. Critics suggest that none of the producing nations have any need for a next generation fighter, particularly not this ‘relic of the Cold War,’ but to not replace the older fighters these air forces were flying would have been simply foolish.

Eurofighter World: Eurofighter reaches the realm of the F-22Eurofighter World: Eurofighter reaches the realm of the F-22Eurofighter World: Eurofighter and Euroradar to develop latest generation AESA radar

Eurofighter World: Eurofighter reaches the realm of the F-22 (Source: Air Ace)

In comparison to the US next-generation fighter, the F-22, the Typhoon has a much larger radar cross-section (particularly given its external weapon pylons) and has a much lower ‘supercruise’ speed, i.e. supersonic flight without the use of afterburners. Both of these leave the Eurofighter at a disadvantage in combat. However, the Typhoon excels at aerial acrobatics – designed to out-maneuver opponents within visual range (WVR).

Following his flight in the Typhoon in 2005, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, then the only pilot to have flown both the F-22 and Typhoon, stated: “They are different kinds of airplanes to start with. It’s like asking us to compare a NASCAR car with a Formula 1 car. They are both exciting in different ways, but they are designed for different levels of performance.”

“The Eurofighter is certainly, as far as smoothness of controls and the ability to pull (and sustain high G forces), very impressive,” he said. “That is what it was designed to do, especially the version I flew, with the avionics, the color moving map displays, etc. — all absolutely top notch. The maneuverability of the airplane in close-in combat was also very impressive.”

The F/A-22 performs in much the same way as the Eurofighter, General Jumper said. But it has additional capabilities that allow it to perform the Air Force’s unique missions.

“The F/A-22 Raptor has stealth and supercruise,” he said. “It has the ability to penetrate virtually undetected because of (those) capabilities. It is designed to be a penetrating airplane. It can maneuver with the best of them if it has to, but what you want to be able to do is get into contested airspace no matter where it is.”

Even with upgrades to its radar and the possible inclusion of thrust vectoring, it is unclear whether the Eurofighter could be called a better fighter than the F-22, but this is not the distinction Japan has to make. Having being locked out of buying the F-22 by US federal arms control law, the Japanese must decide whether the Eurofighter is suitable for a force in which interoperability with the US military is a matter of survival.

“For Eurofighter, it wouldn’t be easy as U.S. links there are strong and deep, but there is a feeling that the offer will be evaluated in a more neutral environment,” a Eurofighter industry source said. “The Eurofighter position has also been helped by the good political support for the sale from the four Eurofighter nations.”

It’ll be a hard fight for the Eurofighter team this year and they have an excellent aircraft (full disclosure: I’m an RAF brat), and I wouldn’t hold your breath on them winning out.

Typhoon vs F-22

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch