The Royal Air Force needs two main types of combat aircraft. Firstly those that shoot down enemy aircraft and secondly those that attack things on the ground. With the last generation jet, the Panavia Tornado, there were two distinctly different versions for the two jobs, but this is inefficient. In modern warfare you need an aircraft that can do both jobs on the same mission, maintaining air superiority whilst attacking targets on the ground.
Of course the UK cannot possibly afford to develop and produce its own multirole fighter, so the Tornado was the fruit of a consortium of European countries, as was its successor the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is the very latest RAF toy. This was intended to be used initially as a dedicated air to air fighter, with the bombing capability being added later. So much for mission flexibility. The whole program to acquire this aircraft has been conducted to the Ministry of Defence’s highest standards, in other words it has been a total farce:
- There is a shortage of essential spare parts, so some aircraft have been cannibalised to keep others in the air. And 5 pilots were grounded in 2010 because of the lack of aircraft. This is because they tried to adopt the “just in time” methodology favoured by industry, and failed.
- During the project the cost of each aircraft went up by 75%. To £126 million each. Compare that with the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet which currently cost £34 million each and which are better in many ways. This is what the Australians have bought.
- Because of the contract the RAF is spending £2.7 billion buying 16 Typhoons that it doesn’t need.
- It is scrapping 50 Typhoons that are currently just 3 years old and which cost £4.5 billion because it can’t afford to update them.
- A Commons report found that only 8 pilots in the whole RAF were qualified to use the Typhoon as a bomber.
- The total cost of the project to the British taxpayer will be £37 billion.
- There are four separate production lines for the aircraft in four different countries.
- It is only certified to carry one type of ground attack weapon, the Enhanced Paveway II/III laser guided bomb, which severely restricts its capabilities.
- The initial in service date of the aircraft was 54 months late.
No wonder Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee on Public Accounts, said: “The history of the Typhoon fighter aircraft represents yet another example of over-optimism, bad planning and an unacceptably high bill for the taxpayer”. Exactly what we have come to expect from the Ministry of Defence, especially under the last Labour government. The big question is are the coalition fixing it?