Kuwait plans for Eurofighter as delegation visits Italy
ALAN WARNES in TURIN. – Among the many guests at the unveiling of the 500th Eurofighter at Leonardo's Turin-Caselle facility, on Tuesday was a small Kuwait delegation. It was headed up by the Kuwait Ambassador to Italy, His Excellency Sheikh Ali Khalid Al Sabah, who was presented with the first component to be built for the first Kuwait Air Force Eurofighter.
On April 5 last year, Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) signed a deal believed to be worth nearly $9 billion with the Kuwait Air Force for 28 Eurofighters. The contract includes 22 single-seater and six twin seater Tranche 3s aircraft. Drawn from the Italian production line, deliveries of the jets are expected to commence in 2019 through to 2023. The KAF Eurofighters will be the first to be fitted with the new Leonardo Air and Space Systems (formerly Selex ES) E-Scan radar known as Captor-E. It comes after an agreement was penned in November 2014 to develop the new electronic radar.
With 87 of the 96 Italian aircraft built at Leonardo’s production facilities, a Leonardo Aircraft Division official said: “Production will be slowed down next year to bridge the production gap of the 28 new build Kuwaiti jets.”
With just nine aircraft to be delivered before 2019, that points to a considerable decrease in production.
He added, “As well as the aircraft, the contract includes three years of support, from delivery of the first aircraft; training for operations with the Italian Air Force and to build up the infrastructure at Ali Al Salem Air Base where they will be housed. A complete training package will be created for the Academy training centre.”
The Kuwaiti aircraft will be built to P3EB standard, which along with the Captor-E includes integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile, Brimstone 2 ground attack weapon and Meteor beyond visual range air to air air (BVRAAM) although it has never been confirmed that Kuwait has ordered any of the weapons. Most agree it is going to be a tight deadline, getting all of them into service by the end of 2018.
Radar development and integration is the responsibility of Leonardo, although both Eurofighters which are fitted with the Captor-E are not based in Italy. Instrumented Production Aircraft 5 (IPA-5) is at BAE Warton, and had commenced flight trials by mid-July 2016. A second Eurofighter, IPA-8, based at Manching in southern Germany, has now joined the AESA integration programme after making its first flight on September 14 last year. Unfortunately Eurofighter Chief Executive Officer Volker Paltzo would not confirm how the programme had progressed or how many hours of airborne CAPTOR-E testing the aircraft had flown to date.
With the Kuwait Air Force acquiring a highly modern fighter, it is no surprise they have been looking at a new jet trainer. According to one of Kuwaiti delegation I spoke to, “Kuwait is going to make a big announcement soon, on the purchase of a new jet trainer.”
With the BAE Hawks and Tucanos grounded, Kuwait has been sending its pilots for flying training to France, Italy and the UK. In Italy, Kuwaiti pilots have been flying on Italian Air Force FT-339A/Cs (MB339s) at Lecce-Galatina, the home of 61 Wing, since 2014. They fly around 150 hours on Phases 2-3 (basic and advanced flying training). With the FT-339A/Cs being phased out in 2018/19 as the Eurofighter is introduced into KAF service in 2019, the KAF needs to start at looking at new flying training options. So it was not surprising to see Leonardo fly the M-345 High Efficency Trainer (HET) to Turin from its home at Venegono for the 500th Eurofighter roll out on April 11. The first batch of five basic-advanced lightweight M-345s will start to replace the FT-339s in Italian Air Force service in 2019. A Leonardo spokesman told me at IDEX in Abu Dhabi in late January: “The M-345 brings a new concept in military flying training, and with the Williams FJ44 engine, the operational cost is comparable to a turboprop.”
According to personnel at Leonardo, KAF pilots are now training on the 12 T-346As (Italian Air force designation for M346) in Phase 4 (Lead In Fighter Training) at Lecce too. Obviously the KAF will also needs a LIFT and the M-346 could fit the bill. They might even consider a split buy? The Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) simulation offered on M-346 and M-345 is seen by many air forces as the way to cut training costs, including those flown on expensive fighters.
Sourcrs also told me that eight Kuwait Air Force instructor pilots will join the Italian Air Force’s Typhoon operational conversion unit with 4 Stormo at Grosseto to learn to fly the Typhoon, then instruct back in Kuwait.
The Kuwaiti delegation at Turin-Caselle during the roll out of the 500th Eurofighter. From left to right General Adnan Al Fadhli, Deputy Commander, Joint International Programme Office based at Leonardo; His Excellency Sheikh Al Jabar Al Sabah, the Kuwait Ambassador to Italy; Dr Bashar Al Bida, Kuwait Defence Attache, Rome; and Lt Col Mujan Al Sabah. Pic:Alan Warnes
Leonardo Filippo, Leonardo Aeronautics Director and Aircraft Division Managing Director presents the Kuwait Ambassador with a symbolic gift. A replica of the first component to be built for the first Kuwait Air Force Eurofighter. Pic: Alan Warnes