June 18, 2015

Paris Air Show 2015: UK senses Eurofighter opportunity in India, Qatar after reduced Rafale buy

Key Points

  • As India and Qatar have opted for small numbers of Rafale fighters from Dassault, the UK sees chances for the Eurofighter to fulfil their total requirements
  • Eurofighter is by some margin the most numerous of the current western European fighter designs, but needs to find more customers in the next 18 months to maintain production
India's announced intention to purchase just 36 Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft represents a renewed opportunity for the Eurofighter Typhoon in India, the head of the UK's defence export support organisation believes.
Speaking at the Paris Air Show, Stephen Phipson, head of UK Trade and Investment's Defence Support Organisation (UKTI DSO), was keen to talk up Eurofighter's continuing chances on the export market, despite a recent run of wins for the Rafale.
"India has a large requirement there," he said. "They've made their first selection of a very limited number of Rafales compared to the initial requirement for 126 fast jets. So our belief, and I was in India all of last week talking with them, is that the competition is still open with what they do with their second and maybe even third tranche of fast jets in India."
But Phipson acknowledges a Eurofighter sale to India is not imminent. "Of course, that will be a long slow process," he said.
While many will be sceptical of the prospects of a Typhoon sale now to India, Phipson sees an advantage in the possibility of local production, not now happening with the Rafale. He added that the "Hawk programme - where we are with BAE systems and Rolls-Royce assembling Hawks and the engines for Hawks in India - really does fit closely with Modi's aspirations for localised manufacturing, and you will notice with the recent announcements, Rafale they are not committing to do that manufacturing, that's going to be done in France."
Even Qatar, which signed a contract for 24 Rafales in May, could still yet order Typhoons, said Phipson. He noted that the country's requirement was for 72 fast jets.
"We're getting all the signals that they're still considering whether or not to push forwards with Typhoon, and we will continue to work on that very closely with the Qatari government and give them the option of Typhoon for the next time they buy," he said.
Phipson thought this could come as early as 2016, saying an order for more aircraft "will probably be next year … so we still remain optimistic on Qatar and Typhoon and the relationship's getting stronger every time we have a meeting with them, so that's very good".
Elsewhere, the UK is looking to potential export opportunities for Eurofighter in Malaysia, as well as potentially Belgium and Denmark. Meanwhile, the Italian-led campaign in Kuwait was going "very well", he said.
Phipson said Eurofighter benefits from the consortium having four production lines currently open for the aircraft. "There is great flexibility in terms of capacity," he said. He added that, "in fact, one of the things that we have been pushing is that we can do early deliveries on some of these requirements because we have the capacity to do that, while other manufacturers would find it difficult to do early deliveries without withdrawing in service jets".
But the Eurofighter's best chances probably come from a new order of aircraft for Saudi Arabia. The aircraft had performed very well in Saudi service over Yemen, Phipson noted, although the recent death of the commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force might change the timing of any future follow-on Saudi Typhoon order, but not the country's commitment and thoughts towards the aircraft.


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