December 31, 2012
Credit: Credit: Dassault Aviation
Graham Warwick Washington
Buying a combat aircraft has always been a political decision. But as costs go up and budgets come down, the stakes get higher. It is not just about securing the best deal, but sharing development costs, accessing technology and guaranteeing support for an aircraft through a service life that could span half a century.
Some countries favor political or diplomatic tit-for-tat. In Brazil, where French, Swedish and U.S. fighters are competing, the FX-2 decision has been delayed until 2013, after the U.S. Air Force chooses between a Brazilian and a U.S. light-attack aircraft to equip the Afghan air force. In the United Arab Emirates, politics and pride, as much as price and performance, have dogged on-again/off-again negotiations over Dassault's Rafale.
Other countries choose to exert their independence. India has selected U.S. airlifters, helicopters and maritime-patrol aircraft, but rejected U.S. bids and picked France's Rafale as its medium multi-role combat aircraft, while cooperating with Russia on development of stealthy Sukhoi T-50 as its heavy fighter. Industrial—as much as political—factors drove those decisions.
Others still choose the partnership route. Switzerland has elected to cooperate with Sweden on development of the next-generation Saab Gripen. Indonesia has joined South Korea's proposed KFX indigenous fighter program. Turkey, meanwhile, is looking to partner with other countries on its potential TFX fighter development.
Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) forecasts deliveries of almost 880 Western-made fighters from 2013-17—74% of them U.S.-built. Although AWIN does not have a formal forecast for Chinese and Russian fighters, Aviation Week estimates five-year production of 200 aircraft by Chengdu and perhaps 250 by United Aircraft.
Forecast sales are dominated by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, a partnership of nine nations: the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Despite delays that have pushed back the completion of development by seven years to 2019, new customers are signing up.