Three Eurofighters Involved In Deadly Crashes In Just One Month (Updated)
The crashes come as the future of the EF2000 production line is in question.
A spate of deadly crashes has struck the international Eurofighter community. Three mishaps in the span of just one month have led to the loss of aircraft and pilots, and although the incidents seem unrelated at first glance, clearly investigators will be looking into systemic training or procedural issues that could have been factors in the crashes.
Today's loss occurred following the aircraft's participation in a flyover for to celebrate Spain's National Day. The aircraft came down in a farmer's field near Los Llanos Air Base, which is located in southeastern Spain, near the town of Albacete. The base is a major hub of Spanish tactical jet flying and houses a squadron of Eurofighters as well as being home to NATO's renowned Tactical Leadership Program. According to reports, it doesn't seem as if the pilot tried to eject.
The loss follows another fatal crash of a Eurofighter that occurred on September 24th, this time the jet belonged to the Italian Air Force. The aircraft failed to complete the bottom half of a loop while performing over water at the Terracina Air Show. Video of the crash was captured from multiple angles and made its rounds around the net and international TV news.
Captain Gabriele Orlandi's body was recovered from the wreckage and an investigation is ongoing into the incident, but at first glance it seems reminiscent of other near air show disasters involving Eurofighters. Still, it is unclear if Orlandi—a highly experienced fighter pilot—just entered the loop at too low an altitude—sadly a common mistake when it comes to tactical jet crashes at air shows—or if other factors were also to blame.
Just a matter of days before that, on September 13th, another Eurofighter crashed, this one belonging to the Royal Saudi Air Force. The jet was flying a combat mission over Yemen when it supposedly experienced technical problems and flew into a mountain. It marked the first operational loss of a Eurofighter for The Kingdom's air arm, which has 53 of the jets in inventory of a total order of 72 airframes.
These tragic losses have come as the Eurofighter Consortium looks for more orders to keep its production line warm. The aircraft cost between $90M and $125M depending on who you ask, which puts it in the thick of the competition in the high-end fighter market. While France's Dassault Rafale has stacked up the orders in recent years, the EF2000 hasn't seen as much sales momentum. Most recently Kuwait signed up to purchase 28 EF2000s and Oman had its first example rolled out last May, it has ordered 12 of the jets in an effort to modernize its relatively small air arm.
With 512 Eurofighters having been produced, and another 87 on the order books, BAE is slashing jobs associated with the program. This year 20 jets will be produced, next year just 11. Follow-on orders from Saudi Arabia and a new one from the UAE have yet to materialize.
Other prospects do exist, including possible sales to Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and maybe a sale in Asia, but competition for these fighter contracts is extreme and in the near term the line will struggle. Additionally, as the stealthy F-35 proliferates around the globe, the competition will become even more fierce for limited fighter dollars.
The EF2000 is a very capable jet, but multi-role capability came late to the type, while other fighter products prioritized multi-role abilities earlier on their development cycles. This has also hurt the Eurofighter, especially for cash strapped air arms that can only afford a single airframe—and in small numbers at that—to fulfill myriad of air combat tasks.
The aircraft's lack of a mature AESA radar has also hurt its sales, although that is changing now with the addition of the CAPTOR-E radar. This radar set has been in development for years and unlike many AESA fighter radars it isn't static and can cover a far larger field of regard than its hard mounted competitors.
Time will tell if the EF2000 can survive the changing tide of the international fighter market, but one thing is certain, the platform will continue to evolve in coming years with new capabilities and weapons being added by the Eurofighter consortium. So at least the aircraft that are already ordered will have the opportunity to reach their potential.
UPDATE 2:55pm PST:
Looks like something went terribly wrong during the break, and that is an interesting break to begin with! The aircraft should have enough speed during this maneuver not to instantly wing-over and stall, but it's hard to tell without video:
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com