The U.S. Joint Strike Fighter is not scheduled to start rolling
off the assembly line for at least a decade. But it already is viewed
as a threat to European fighter aircraft programs.
To be sure, the JSF has not entered any fighter competitions around
the world. The prototypes developed by competing contractors Boeing
and Lockheed Martin have not even left the ground. But the expected
size and scope of the JSF program has prompted European aerospace
leaders to take verbal preemptive strikes against the U.S. aircraft,
which could become a threat to future sales of Europe's flagship
warplane, the Eurofighter.
The JSF was designed to fulfill U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine
Corps, and U.K. Royal Navy warplane requirements in the next century.
If the program moves forward as planned, about 3,000 aircraft will
be built over several decades. The Eurofighter is a four-nation
program that currently is slated to deliver 620 aircraft for the
United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain. The first production-class
Eurofighter is scheduled to leave the factory in August 2001, officials
said. It will be available for international customers by June 2002.
It would seem odd to make JSF and Eurofighter peer competitors
because JSF was designed to become a workhorse tactical fighter
for the U.S. Air Force. For the U.S. and U.K. navies, it will be
a carrier-based fighter-bomber. For the Marine Corps, it will be
a vertical take-off and landing platform, which will replace the
Harrier. Eurofighter, on the other hand, is a multi-role air superiority
fighter that would be comparable to the U.S. F-15.
So why do Europeans believe Eurofighter sales could be jeopardized
by the emergence of JSF in the international market?
Based on comments made by European industry officials during last
month's Farnborough international air show, in the United Kingdom,
it appears that the answer lies in the age-old market principle
that one should establish a competitive advantage as early as possible.
The makers of Eurofighter-Germany's DASA, Britain's BAE Systems,
Italy's Alenia and Spain's CASA-are competing today for sales of
up to 250 aircraft in various countries, said Cesare Gianni, a vice
president of Eurofighter International.
Gianni accused the U.S. government and U.S. contractors of pressuring
nations to withhold decisions on fighter purchases until the JSF
becomes available. In Norway, for example, a contract award for
several dozen aircraft was suspended, according to Gianni, because
the U.S. government requested that Norway consider purchasing the
The Netherlands is evaluating JSF and other aircraft as a replacement
for its F-15 fighters, but, said Gianni, "Eurofighter is viewed
as an increasingly attractive alternative." A decision is expected
late this year. The Dutch, said Gianni, are under "U.S. political
and industrial pressure to stay with a 'paper aircraft,'" meaning
South Korea announced it would buy 40 new fighters, and potentially
up to 120, said Gianni. Eurofighter is competing with France's Rafale,
Boeing's F-15 and Russia's Sukhoi. A decision is expected in 2002.
Again, complained Gianni, "U.S. political pressure will be
a formidable entry barrier" in this competition.
To compete against the JSF carrier-based aircraft, Eurofighter
officials are working on a "navalized" version, said Gianni.
"It has every chance of winning against JSF," he said.
One potential disadvantage for Eurofighter, however, is its price
tag. The U.K. government said it is paying $63 million per unit,
in 1999 dollars. JSF is expected to go for $35 to $40 million. When
asked about the price advantage, Gianni said that price isn't relevant
today, because JSF is a decade away from production, so it would
be hard to predict what prices will be then. "We have not yet
entered in direct competitions against JSF. When we compete against
'real aircraft,' our price is competitive," he stressed.
The contrast between having "real" vs. "paper"
aircraft also was raised by Jean-Paul Bechat, chairman of GIFAS,
the French aeronautical and space industry association, representing
"So far, in the JSF program, they've worked on demonstrators.
There is a long way to go before it's a production program,"
he said in a news conferenc. France is not a member of Eurofighter,
but its Rafale aircraft often competes internationally against Eurofighter
and U.S. warplanes.
Rafale will be developing new variants, pushing for more international
sales, said Bechat.
Bechat noted that, in 1999, 76 percent of France's aerospace revenues
came from exports. About 66 percent of backlog orders also are exports.
The message was clear: European industries must export to survive.
The U.S. Defense Department spends twice as much as the entire European
continent annually on weapons, so U.S. firms have an advantage there.
According to Eurofighter's Gianni, there will be a worldwide market
for 800 fighter aircraft during the next 30 years. "Our goal
is to capture 50 percent of that market," he said.
A study by Forecast International-DMS estimated that Eurofighter
would sell 324 aircraft between now and 2009. But that is before
JSF enters the marketplace.
Offering his stance on the Eurofighter program at Farnborough was
Vance Coffman, chairman of Lockheed Martin. "Eurofighter is
a plane with no history," he told reporters. And, he added,
its manufacturers have yet to show they can produce large numbers
of aircraft at competitive prices.
John Douglass, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Aerospace
Industries Association, said that JSF and Eurofighter could be seen
as competitors "in some limited way."
The fact that JSF still is years away is an advantage, Douglass
told National Defense in an interview at Farnborough. The JSF will
have an edge, because it will have much newer technology, he said.
Asked about the European complaints of U.S. government pressure
for JSF sales, Douglass said there is nothing "sinister"
about it, and it's part of the way business is done in the arms
market. "All governments do the best that they can to support
the industry from their countries, and of course, if they are selling
their equipment in the international market and somebody buys it,
it makes it cheaper for them to buy it for their own country.
"Our colleagues in the European aerospace industry are easy
to work with, very interested in collaborative programs," he
Unlike the Europeans, Douglass believes that the U.S. industry
does not receive as much government support as it should. He currently
is supporting a congressional "presidential commission,"
which will address aerospace industry concerns in the next administration.
"I think you will see some interesting developments on that