Eurofighter Typhoons Head East
SINGAPORE’S MINISTRY of Defence (MinDef) has imposed strict reporting guidelines on the three companies bidding for its Next Fighter Replacement Programme (NFRP, also known as the Next Generation Fighter programme), insisting that they reveal nothing about their submissions or about the evaluation process. They seem to have obeyed this order to the letter, though Internet bulletin boards have included comments by MinDef and RSAF sources, and even by people claiming to be members of the evaluation team.
Normally helpful press and PR staff at BAE Systems and Eurofighter GmbH were tight-lipped when asked about the Singaporean Typhoon bid. However, Air Forces Monthly has learned -unofficially — that the recent evaluation of Typhoon went very well indeed.
«The Singaporeans were over the moon,» a well-placed source told AFM (very much against orders). «Typhoon exceeded all expectations, and blew their F-16s out of the sky!»
AFM understands that Singapore hopes to acquire an initial batch of around eight Next Generation Fighters, with options on 12-16 more, in order to meet an initial requirement for approximately 20 aircraft. These will replace the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) existing A-4 fighter-bombers from 2008-2009. About 30 A-4S and A-4SU Super Skyhawks remain in service with two front-line squadrons at Tengah. and with a training squadron at Cazaux in France, though one of the Tengah units is expected to convert to the F-16C during 2004 (for more on the RSAF, see Republic of Singapore Air Force Report, January, p48-56).
Singapore also has an overlapping requirement to replace its F-5S Tiger lls, which became fighter-bombers after being replaced in the air defence role by the F-16. In addition to the Next Fighter Replacement programme, Singapore is also committed to the Joint Strike Fighter, having become a fourth-level participant in the JSF programme on March 23, 1999, so gaining ‘observer’ status. The Next Fighter Replacement programme will thus not directly, or completely, replace both types, but it will be a near-term replacement for both, augmented in the longer term by the F-35.
Singapore has been extraordinarily secretive about the exact details of its fighter requirement. It has, however, been widely reported that the candidate aircraft must have a robust beyond visual range air-to-air capability, must offer the maximum possible strike range, and be capable of carrying advanced stand-off air-to-ground weapons. The interpretation that the Singaporeans required the aircraft to be capable of carrying conformal fuel tanks is believed to have been mistaken.
The Typhoon was down-selected in October 2003 when it was shortlisted by the Defence, Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) along with the Dassault Rafale and the Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F-15T.
As a version of the F-15E, the F-15T proposed to Singapore represents a proven design, tried and tested in combat, and with an excellent reputation. The aircraft is also used by Israel (a key Singaporean ally, and a supplier of weapons and avionics) and is powered by the same engine as Singapore’s latest F-16s, thereby offering some potentially useful commonality.
But the F-15T is also an ancient, early ‘third generation’ design, at the very end of its development potential, and though there are hopes that the aircraft would include an active electronically scanning array (AESA) version of the F-15’s AN/APG-63(V)3 radar, this is conditional on Raytheon gaining an order for a radar retrofit from the USAF. There are also real concerns as to the standards of weapons and technology that might be transferred from the US.
The debacle over the late supply of AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) is fresh in many Singaporean minds, while the air force needs a more advanced long-range stand-off weapon than the SLAM-ER now being offered. And while some have questioned the suitability of composites for tropical use, the F-15 has suffered major problems with water ingress and de-lamination of the honeycomb parts of its structure, requiring the USAF to launch the so-called Grid Lock rectification programme.
Although an AESA AN/APG-63(V)2 was developed in 1999 under a secret programme, and fitted to some 18 USAF F-15s based at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, the F-15s evaluated by Singapore had mechanically-scanned arrays. Development of the actively-scanned AN/APG-63(V)3 is dependent upon Raytheon selling more than 160 F-15 radar upgrades to the USAF, since the Singaporean requirement would not be sufficient to fund development activity. The (V)3 uses next-generation tiles in the T/R modules, making it about 2401b (108kg) lighter than the (V)2.
The Rafale, by contrast, is a more modern aircraft, and though Eurofighter is ‘catching up’, has entered limited frontline service. Moreover, with little prospect of further domestic orders and with no export customers ‘under its belt’, Dassault is likely to make an extremely competitive bid. Compared to the F-15, the Rafale represents much more modern technology, and there may be a greater possibility of technology transfer to Singapore.
There have been reports that Singapore favours an AESA radar, and although current in-service Rafales use a Thales RBE2 radar set with a passive electronically scanning array, this could easily be upgraded to AESA standards. Programme insiders claim that upgrading from the passive to the active model of RBE2 is a simple “replacement of the passive array with an active antenna, with some software revisions and some limited additional component swap-outs,» and that «the RBE2 radar was always designed to be upgraded to an AESA model, making this antenna switch-out more or less a ‘plug and play’ proposition.”
It is said to be a «less complicated upgrade» than that Raytheon has proposed for the F-15T. Dassault has claimed that an AESA radar could be fitted to the second batch of aircraft to be delivered under the proposed contract schedule, and that the initial batch could then be retrofitted with AESA radar.
Though Thales AESA radar is flying, neither the Rafale F1 standard aircraft now in service with the Aeronavale or the F2 standard aircraft due to enter Armee de I’Air service next year, will use it. Singapore requires an aircraft more advanced than the proposed F3 baseline, due to enter service in 2008, with ASMP-A medium-range air-to-surface missile and AM39 anti-ship missile capability, as well as conformal fuel tanks and upgraded 90KN class SNECMA M88-3 engines.
Although the Eurofighter Typhoon is, in most respects, the most advanced option, with real network-centric potential, it lacks AESA radar, and is not expected to receive it earlier than 2010. A Thales-BAE Systems joint development is under way to produce the Airborne Multi-role Solid State Active Array Radar (AMSAR) to replace the current, mechanically-scanned BAE Systems ECR-90 Captor model, but this would not be available in time to meet the Singapore requirement. In any case, radar performance, not antenna type, is believed to be the key to Singapore’s requirement. Moreover, AESA technology is still relatively immature, and can impose problems and limitations, especially in small fast jet type platforms.
Apart from the radar ‘question mark’, and though it has not yet entered full frontline service, Typhoon offers the best multi-role potential of the three contenders.
Eurofighter GmbH’s ability to offer AMRAAM and Paveway LGBs — as well as new generation weapons including ASRAAM, Meteor, Storm Shadow and Brimstone — may be of pivotal importance in Singapore, offering the best available air-to-ground and air-to-air weapon options, and providing a real ‘capability edge’ by comparison with the other candidate aircraft. There have also been reports that Israeli weapons (and perhaps some Israeli avionics systems) might have to be integrated.
The EJ200 engine is also believed to represent a key ‘Typhoon advantage’. The engine incorporates what Eurojet Business Development Executive Paul Herrmann calls «genuine fourth generation technology».
He says: «Though it has no inlet guide vanes, the engine can swallow a 11b (0.4kg) bird, hail, sand, water or a flock of 80-gramme birds, and still perform for half an hour. And it gives a huge difference in support costs and logistics demands compared to a second or third generation engine.”
Typhoon uses advanced technology to reduce the cost of ownership, and is claimed to be the only one of the three competitors to have been specifically designed for high availability and low life-cyde costs, giving it another useful advantage in Singapore.
The Typhoon bid is likely to be the most ‘advanced’ industrially, as well as technically, offering the best chances of technology transfer, and the least danger of restrictions on particular capabilities and equipment items.
When Typhoon was down-selected, BAE Systems expressed its confidence that the aircraft would «meet the exacting demands of the Republic of Singapore Air Force whilst providing its industry with the opportunity to be involved at the start of a new and exciting high technology programme.»
BAE hopes that Typhoon’s innovative long-term advanced support concept will prove compelling to Singapore, since it would make maximum use of Singapore’s technology base and highly-skilled workforce.
Peter Anstiss, Managing Director Typhoon Export Programmes at BAE Systems, said: «Involvement in this extensive programme would offer Singapore a unique opportunity of direct access to the technologies and industries of four of the key partner nations in Europe, and to extensive technology transfer. The selection of Typhoon represents just one step on the path already begun in building an enhanced long-term relationship between Singapore and the four partner nations.»
Filippo Bagnato, the then-Chief Executive Officer of Eurofighter GmbH, added that there was «a clear route for technology transfer that will seek to enhance core indigenous capabilities in Singapore. Alongside this effort we will also work to further develop a powerful industrial partnership between Singapore’s high technology industry and Europe’s leading defence and aerospace companies — Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems and EADS.»
As well as evaluating ‘paper’ submissions, Singapore’s evaluation process, which began more than a year ago, includes a detailed evaluation of all three aircraft types.
Around five Singaporean pilots (several of whom had already flown Rafale) are believed to have visited Warton and Getafe in 2002 and 2003 and flown in the two-seat Development Aircraft.
The Rafale and F-15 were evaluated ‘in-country’ following their participation in the Asian Aerospace 2004 show. The Armee de I’Air’s first production standard (F2) Rafale В two-seater (the aircraft which had performed in the flying display there, was joined by a single-seat Aeronavale (F1 standard) Rafale M for the evaluation, while Boeing provided a pair of ‘borrowed’ USAF F-15Es. Eurofighter did not send a Typhoon to the Asian Aerospace show, but it turned even this potential PR ‘hit’ into something of an advantage by assiduously courting the Singaporean public with a clever campaign which raised awareness and won it useful friends. For a brief period, Typhoon-branded buses were a common sight in Singapore, while the show itself the company sponsored a public enclosure. More seriously, it deployed simulators and a strong team of test pilots and engineers and ensured that a huge number of Air Force pilots were able to ‘fly’ the aircraft on representative sortie profiles and have their most searching questions properly answered. Many «arrived extremely cynical and suspicious, but left grinning broadly,» according to Flight Daily News during the show.
The Singaporean evaluation team is reported to have made its second visit to Warton to fly and evaluate the RAF’s Batch 1 Typhoons between June 2-11,2004, flying six sorties. During the Warton visit, the Singaporeans were said to have been ‘extremely impressed’ by seeing an engine changed inside 45 minutes, and by the fact that a full LP turbine change was achieved while the party were sitting down to tea! The in-country evaluation of the aircraft by Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) finally took place in July.
What the RAF referred to as Exercise eastern smile began on Sunday, June 27, when two Typhoon T.1s (ZJ805/AD ‘Ascot/Rafair 9590’ and ZJ807/BF ‘Ascot/Rafair 9589’) left Warton for Akrotiri, supported by a VC-10 tanker and three C-130 Hercules (two of which had departed the previous afternoon).
One of the original pair of aircraft suffered a minor unserviceability at Akrotiri (blowing a relay during post-flight servicing) though this was slow to be diagnosed and the ‘ground spare’ (ZJ806/BE ‘Ascot/Rafair 959V) left Warton for Akrotiri on June 29. The fault had been repaired by the time the spare aircraft had been despatched.
Given that they then had three fully-serviceable jets at Akrotiri, the RAF picked the two best-prepared aircraft, and these continued onwards.The remaining aircraft was left at Akrotiri to be ‘swept up’ on the return home.
This left the two No 29 Squadron Typhoon T.1s flying on to Singapore, along with BAE’s Tranche 1, Block 2 Typhoon cockpit demonstrator. The aircraft were flown out to Singapore by No 17 Squadron aircrew: two BAE pilots, Archie Neill and Brian Kemp, flew them during the Singaporean evaluation period.
The aircraft took advantage of the newly-cleared in-flight refuelling probes to make the journey in just four hops instead of the 15 that would have been required without this facility. «Refuelling was originally to have been a downstream activity,» Group Captain Bob Judson, ‘Group Captain Typhoon’ at HO Strike Command, told AFM. «But it was brought forward, as were a number of other activities and capabilities.”
The aircraft routed Akrotiri in Cyprus, Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, and Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, and arrived at Paya Lebar at 09:49 BST, on Friday, July 2. «We handed over the aircraft for evaluation on time. We were a day later than originally planned, so we used the ’flex’ day built into the plan, though, in reality, the delay was partly C-130J-driven,» Judson told AFM.
Between the Typhoons’ arrival at Paya Lebar and their departure there is an information ‘black hole’ — at least officially. The RAF’s part in the deployment was over, the support Hercules going back onto other taskings, and BAE has refused to comment at all.
AFM understands, however, that the evaluation, which was the first time Typhoon had flown outside Europe, was a resounding success. Though BAE and Eurofighter will not confirm any details, it is believed that the two aircraft flew 28 missions, totalling 35 flying hours, during the course of which the aircraft convincingly demonstrated its air-to-air capabilities, first against a pair of F-16s and then against a package of six F-5S and F-16C/D aircraft.
It also demonstrated its ability to ‘supercruise’ (fly supersonically without reheat), achieving Mach 1.21 on a normal, hot Singapore day. This impressed the Singaporeans — and Typhoon’s rival bidders, whose aircraft require reheat for supersonic flight.
“They didn’t wait for the cool of evening, they didn’t wait for a cooler day — they just went out and did it in a hot, daytime, tropical environment,» one Rafale programme insider told AFM, with grudging admiration. «The Singaporeans were astonished and asked why they hadn’t advertised that they could do it. The answer was that these RAF jets weren’t weighed down with a tonne of flight test instrumentation, so they could do it where the
Development Aircraft were probably a little slower!»
One problem arose during the deployment which a formal ‘change proposal’ to be submitted. This was because condensation formed and ‘pooled’ inside the container used to transport the spare engine, requiring a small drain hole to be added. The Typhoon and its engine coped extremely well with the tropical conditions in Singapore, and with the varying climatic conditions encountered en route.
At one time it had been hoped that the deployment would end with a flypast at the Farnborough air show, but tanker unserviceabilities put paid to the plan, forcing an unscheduled diversion to Phuket in Thailand and Al Dhafra. The aircraft returned back to BAe Warton on August 2.
Before the evaluation, BAE’s Peter Anstiss observed that the «DSTA [Defence Science and Technology Agency] evaluation process here is as effective as I’ve seen anywhere. They placed a lot of emphasis in life-cycle costs, and we’re confident that Typhoon will be the least expensive over the life of the programme.”
«The deployment was very successful,” Bob Judson told AFM. “It involved much work from all areas of the programme, especially from BAE Systems and the RAF, and it was a huge success. The exercise has a very heavy RAF focus, and servicing was done under RAF procedures, though we still had a reliance on BAE. The aircraft was much more reliable than we dared hope — and it was a very new aircraft, so a deployment like this was a big challenge. One of the aircraft had only 12 hours on it! It was a significant learning process and we learned a great deal about the aircraft’s supportability. This was a very significant statement about Typhoon’s capability and reliability.”
An anonymous source from Eurojet was keen to praise the British Government. «Despite the delay in signing up for Tranche 2, we owe a debt of gratitude to the UK. We simply could not have done this without the support of the British Government, releasing the aircraft and aircrew and supporting the deployment, which was a magnificent effort.»
Singapore is expected to announce its decision during 2005, and the first eight aircraft are currently scheduled to be delivered during 2008-9. The decision will be made on both technical and political grounds, but, as a member of the Typhoon team happily commented: “We could not have done any more. I’m happy that we gave it our very best shot, and as the final selection will be made on technical, economic and operational grounds I have no doubt at all that we can win.”