The good news about the Eurofighter Typhoon is that it’s apparently a Raptor-killer. The only pilot known to have flown both aircraft, USAF General John Jumper, called the former's air-to-air capabilities a close second to those of the latter. German pilots at Red Flag have bested their American colleagues in mock battles, by keeping their smaller, more maneuverable aircraft on the stealth-fighters’ tails. And with MBDA’s multiple-salvo, fire-and-forget Brimstone missile to be integrated by 2018, the Eurofighter will gain some impressive surface-strike capabilities.
So much for the good news. The bad news is striking as well. As reported last week, the readiness rate of Typhoons in Spain’s Ejército del Aire is very low: only 6 of 39 aircraft (15%) are flyable. In Germany’s Luftwaffe, the figures are better, but still only 42 of 109 Eurofighters (39%) "are currently available for missions, training, and exercises.” For the German fleet overall, the estimated lifecycle costs have doubled since the initial estimate in 1997, from €30 to 60 billion, despite a reduction in the planned fleet from 180 to 140 fighters. Oh by the way, Eurofighters built so far have a manufacturing flaw in the rear fuselage that impugns structural integrity. As a result, according to Agence France Presse, "Berlin has decided to cut the time its Eurofighters spend in the air each year in half, from 3,000 hours to 1,500 hours."
And yet, Eurofighters are flown by the air forces of not just Spain and Germany, but Austria, Britain, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. Oman has ordered twelve. Indonesia is interested, particularly if local assembly is involved. Fairly, Saab’s cheaper Gripen would also be a strong contender, as Indonesia’s total military budget for 2015, despite a 14% increase from 2014, is still less than €6.5 billion. But Jakarta is talking to Eurofighter, perhaps in part because those impressive games against the USAF signal that any trouble from future Chinese aircraft carriers could be readily handled.
Readily handled—if the aircraft themselves were ready! For me, this prompts a question: are reports of low readiness rates endemic to the plane as designed and manufactured, or to those two underfunded air forces trying to maintain it? The RAF seems to be having few problems with its Typhoons as they routinely scramble on Russian bombers coming down from the Norwegian Sea. The RAF hasn’t announced a similar cutback in flying hours, and in any case, recent fuselage problems in F-16s (amongst other aircraft) are being remedied with retrofits.
Thus I suspect that this is a spending problem for two air forces, and a mere marketing problem for Eurofighter. But that doesn’t mean that the problem can be safely ignored. As closely as armaments are associated with the forces employing them, the companies selling them have challenging communications problems with those forces mishandle them. Best of luck to Eurofighter in getting past two customers’ unhelpful inattention to detail.