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Fighter Aircraft

1st Gen2nd Gen3rd Gen4th Gen5th Gen
P-16 Fighter Project
N-20 Aiguillon (Sting)
Sea Hawk
Mirage F1
Mirage 5
Mirage 2000


In the early decades of the 20th Century, Europe led the world in the development of combat aircraft, but the European aviation industry was largely destroyed in the Second World War. Most military equipment which found its way to Europe through the early 1950's was part of the American Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949 and the Mutual Security Acts of the 1950's, which in effect removed the issue ofdefense procurement from public concern. Subsequently, alliance-wide purchases have been the exception rather than the rule, and virtually impossible for the purchase of fighter aircraft. The revival of European economies soon rendered collaborative defense projects (rather than alliance-wide commitments) much more viable and transatlantic and Alliance issues took a back seat to resurgent defense industrial bases.

While some countries continued to operate U.S.-made jets, certain European states turned desire for independence from U.S. industry into several fighter jet projects, beginning with the FIAT G-91 project, through the Harrier and onto the Panavia MRCA/Tornado venture in 1968, in which Britain, Germany, and Italy teamed with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada to pursue a common multi-role fighter. The Netherlands and Belgium both left the project after realizing the F-16 program promised not only greater multi-role capability, but better industrial opportunities for their smaller defense industries. The French-made Dassault-Breguet F1/M53 and the Swedish Saab-Scania Viggen 37E, were both capable fighters in their own right, but clearly inferior when faced with the capability and cost advantages of the F-16.

Since the 1960s, NATO planners were aware that the Alliance was suffering from adiversity of equipment, a problem unknown to the Soviet bloc. Consequently, improvements havebeen sought to perfect the use of our military resources for a better combat capability.Commonalty of weapons has usually been attained through the purchase of weapons from othermembers of the Alliance or through the use of cooperative production ventures, the most frequently used and the most successful of collaborative efforts. Programs such as the F-16 have given credence to the possibilities of joint manufacturing of the same system.

A driving factor in the push for co-developed systems is the growth in cost of each new edition of a weapon system. Among the principal cost drivers is the cost of research and development as designers try to attain greater technological superiority. Coupled with the increased sophistication is the long time need to keep design teams together. For combat aircraft in Europe, for example, during the twenty five years from 1960 to 1985, the portion of aircraft cost devoted to R&Dhas grew from about 15 percent to around 30 percent. As former Assistant Secretary of the Army, Norman R. Augustine, has pointed out, at times facetiously, the unit cost of military equipment isincreasing at an exponential rate with respect to time. Thus, the cost of an individual fighteraircraft has grown by a factor of four every ten years since the days of the Wright brothers.

European aircraft designers suffered raises in costs. In France the Mirage F1 which entered service in the 1970s cost five times as much in constant 1975 dollars as the Ouragan, the first jet fighter produced in France after World War II. The Mirage 2000 was estimated to be twice as expensive as the F l. A result of this high unit cost has been the procurement of fewer units with each succeeding generation of weapons. thus making the pro rata share of R&D even higher. The high cost of military aircraft has consequences for the aerospace industries of Europe as well, since higher costs mean smaller production runs. The West German Air Force operated 624 F-104s but by the 1980s flew only 322 Tomados. Similarly, the F-4s in use in the German forces were replaced by only about 170 of the German version of the planned European Fighter Aircraft. In Sweden, too, the proposed number of the JAS-39 Gripen to be built was only about 140, compared to the previous 330 Vigen fighters employed by the Swedish Air Force.

In the summer of 1985, Britain,Germany, Italy, Spain, and France began talks about the next generation European fighterplane, then known as the European Fighter Aircraft, or EFA. France predictably left the program to pursue an autonomous carrier-capable plane with the air-to-ground capacity it had missed by bowing out of the Tornado program. Additionally, the French were direct rivals in airframes and engines to British Aerospace, adding tothe benefits of their absence. The French project became the Rafale fighter, which is strikingly similar to the Eurofighter except for its ability to land on carrier decks. By 2006 both aircraft were partially owned by the same parent company of EADS and are direct competitors in the export market, illustrating perhaps a failure for European defense integration.

Although there had always been a question whether American participation was desired or even if it would be allowed, US Secretary of Defense Weinberger made it clear that the U.S. was willing to cooperate. The US tried to thwart a totally European EFA by offering European participants the opportunity to codevelop a fighter such as Agile Falcon or Homet 2000 which would be used in Europe as well as sold elsewhere. The Europeans however, rejected this approach in spite of its appeal of having up to two-thirds the cost of developing the EFA funded by the US. There was a real fear that in such a program the U.S. would completely dominate the program, thus furthering the demise of Europe's aircraft design capabilities.

Difficulties faced by cooperative acquisition programs are the inability to agree on common requirements and the existence of economic or political interests of the partner nations which conflict with or impinge on the program. These are the causes of failure of many of the past cooperative projects undertaken by NATO countries for the purpose of standardization. All the nations involved in the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) program have been subject to the same problems and have defended their internal economic interests within the program. On the other hand, their collective economic interests had the effect of keeping the program alive despite the difficulties. Irrespective of standardization purposes, the EFA appeared as both a military and industrial necessity to push the aerospace industries of the partner nations to a competitive level in the world marketplace.

The Gray Threat, a publication by RAND that argued for the F-22, compares the potential performance of three fighters - the Swedish Grippen, the French Rafale, and the EF-2000 - with the capabilities of the F-15 and F- 16. The analysis suggested that the Rafale offers and the EF-2000 may offer substantial improvements over the F-16 and that they have capabilities roughly equal to the F-15E. RAND claimed that the Grippen, a smaller plane, would nonetheless have capabilities that exceeded those of the F-16. Some U.S. aircraft builders disputed those estimates. Lockheed Martin, the F-16's manufacturer, argued that the RAND study used the thrust-to-weight ratio - a measure that can translate into speed and agility - of the block 42 F-16, which had the lowest thrust-to-weight ratio of any F-16 produced. It suggested that current F-16s had ratios that were 20 percent higher - in other words, comparable to other top fighters.

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Page last modified: 19-09-2019 18:55:57 ZULU