The Eurofighter GmbH warplane will remain a key element of western defenses beyond 2030 only if governments commit to costly capability upgrades, according to a report commissioned by the pan-national manufacturer.
The plane, made by an alliance of BAE Systems Plc, Airbus Group SE and Finmeccanica SpA, could be rendered obsolete once Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 becomes a mainstay of aerial defenses for the U.S. and its allies in 15 years, Royal United Services Institute researcher Justin Bronk said in the study.
With the Eurofighter slow to get key electronic-warfare, communications and detection upgrades, the aging Tornado has remained a go-to jet for the U.K, Germany and Italy, performing bombing runs in Libya, where the French Dassault Aviation SA Rafale also showed its abilities, and flying missions against Islamic State. Tornado’s exit from 2019 should let Eurofighter demonstrate its prowess before F-35s are widespread, RUSI said.
“Relatively small” investments would give Eurofighter squadrons “the capability to fill the strike-role gap between the Tornado’s drawdown and eventual F-35 full-operational capacity,” Bronk said in the report published Monday.
Without such funding, European nations risk losing essential functions when the Tornado is retired, as well as the ability to connect seamlessly with the incoming F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter or Lightning II, the study says.
The Eurofighter has suffered from “substantially differing mission priorities” between countries that have muddled upgrade priorities, according to Bronk. The gap to the delayed F-35 and escalating tensions with Russia must now focus investment and prompt reviews of defense spending, he said.
The model, which entered service in 2003, won a boost in November when Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) radar upgrade, following a July agreement to integrate Storm Shadow long-range attack warheads.
Eurofighters could ultimately be deployed by European air forces as a larger fleet led by small numbers of F-35s as each comes off the production line through the 2020s, if able to connect with the stealthy U.S. fighter’s technology suite. In later years the plane would be relegated to second-wave strikes.