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  • With A Heigh, Ho, The Wind And The Rain
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 12:30 PM on Jul 21, 2008

    The good news was that last week's Farnborough air show did not wrack its visitors with the infernal heat of 2006. The better news was that the rain that had poured all of the previous week, forcing the cancellation of the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford, backed off.

    Congratulations, too, to Southwest Trains, which sensibly added stops at Farnborough and added more carriages to trains, and to whoever decided to make the shuttle bus service from Farnborough station free of charge, making the service much more efficient.

    Defense-side news was - in my view - dominated by three important events. The first is the impending battle between Gripen Next Generation and the Joint Strike Fighter over the three European F-16 founder nations - Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands - which are due to choose an F-16 replacement in the next year. It's now a two-way fight;  Eurofighter has pulled out, Rafale has been eliminated and the F/A-18 is far behind.

    Clearly it is up to those nations to make the best decision they can. However, we now know enough about both contenders to say one thing with confidence:  that to make a choice without a serious, rigorous and balanced evaluation of both types would be an act of criminal incompetence.

    Another important decision is a step forward in the establishment by the UK MoD and industry of Team Complex Weapons, now awarded GBP74 million to start development of six new or upgraded guided weapons. If the approach is successful, and expands to involve other  European nations, it could create a much stronger competitor worldwide.

    BAE Systems' unveiling of its Mantis UAV was the third significant defense story at Farnborough. It's an indication that the company has decided to go after the increasingly valuable market for endurance UAVs, taking on the Predator B and IAI Heron TP. As noted last week, too, BAE's focus on autonomy could help address the economic Achilles' heel of these systems:  their demands on trained personnel.

    Underneath all this, too, I detected a rumbling disaffection over the USAF tanker deal. If there is anyone on Europe's industry who thinks that the decision to cancel the award of the contract to Northrop Grumman and EADS was anything other than a gutless (if predictable) capitulation to protectionist know-nothings on Capitol Hill, I didn't meet them. The JSF team can count themselves lucky that none of the nations in play in Europe are major Airbus players.

    Tags: ar99, farnblog, jsf, gripen

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