Time and motion

How do you coordinate the logistics and supplies for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the most complex combat aircraft programme in the history of pan-European defence programmes?

The answer seems to lie in cascading design and production responsibility from the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA), which is responsible for procuring the aircraft on behalf of the air forces of the European partner nations (Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) involved in the project.

The overall responsibility for the design and production of the Typhoon falls under the jurisdiction of Eurofighter GmbH based in Munich, which on 30th January 1998 signed a contract with the partner nations for the delivery of 620 Typhoons to these countries. Once that contract was signed, it was Eurofighter GmbH's responsibility to then award tenders to contractors providing the airframe, engines and subsystems that comprise the jets which are assembled at four different production lines in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

In the beginning

The Typhoon began life as the Future European Fighter Aircraft (FEFA) in 1983, an initiative which originally involved France, along with Germany, Italy and the UK. France quit the project in 1985 to pursue the Dassault Rafale amid rancour regarding responsibility for the aircraft's design and the allocation of workshare across Europe on the initiative. The same year that France quit the FEFA, the programme was renamed the European Fighter Aircraft which would involve Germany, Italy and the UK with Spain also joining the project that year. One year later, Eurofighter GmbH was established to take overall responsibility for the design of the aircraft, allocating the responsibility for the design and construction of aircraft components and subsystems across the four partner nations. At 37%, the UK had by far the biggest workshare on the programme, with Germany responsible for 30%, Italy 20% and Spain 13%. The allocation of workshare was based on the number of aircraft that these countries would purchase, with the UK scheduled to receive 232, Germany 180, Italy 121 and Spain 87.

Eurofighter GmbH is itself a consortium of firms including Alenia of Italy, EADS of Germany, the UK's BAE Systems and EADS CASA of Spain. Workshare responsibilities were divided across the consortium thus, with BAE Systems being responsible for 33% of the aircraft's development and 37.5% of its production. Meanwhile, put together, both parts of EADS were tasked with 48% of the development work and 43% of the aircraft's production, with Alenia performing 21% of the development and 18% of the production.

The level of responsibility for the design of the parts and subsystems which comprise the aircraft are allocated on a country by country basis according to the number of aircraft that the partner nation will take and that nation's level of investment in the original project. This allocation or ‘workshare' in Eurofighter-speak was decided when the original development contract was signed.

In total, there are around 400 suppliers supporting the Eurofighter programme. These suppliers are arranged in two tiers; firstly the prime contractors responsible for major aircraft systems and subcontract work to second tier suppliers to assist in this effort. For example, BAE Systems was tasked with developing the aircraft's forward fuselage including the cockpit, along with its canards, parts of the aft fuselage and the inboard flaperons. At the same time, the company also had the responsibility for integrating Typhoon's avionics and develop its self-defence systems, along with its fuel and electrical networks. As the development of the Typhoon moved forward, prime contractors such as BAE Systems had the latitude to subcontract development and component design work to second tier suppliers at their discretion in order for their products to be realised.

This process had the dual purpose of not only securing the supply of complex parts for key aircraft systems, but also cascading production responsibility to the second tier suppliers, helping to deepen the body of European knowledge as far as complex aerospace engineering and design challenges are concerned. Essentially the prime contractors do the design work and assembly, with the second tier suppliers participating in the manufacturing.
It is unlikely that new contracts will be awarded for the Eurofighter in the future. This is because two tranches of the aircraft have already been produced with a third, dubbed Tranche 3A, which will see the manufacture of 110 aircraft across the four partner nations. Any new contracts which do become available are expected to cover additional capabilities on the aircraft which may be required by existing or new customers. For example, Eurofighter has looked at adding conformal fuel tanks to the aircraft which could necessitate new contracts for these components to be designed.
Ready and willing

One company benefiting from the down-flow of production contracts to second tier suppliers is Tital of Germany. The company produces several structural aluminium and titanium investment castings up to 1.3m in size and provides them fully-machined for the EJ200 engines that power the jet fighter.

“We have been involved in the Eurofighter project since commencement and was selected because we offered the best value for our customers,” explains Tital's Philipp Jerusalem. “We were also in the fortuitous position of not needing to make any additional investment into our design and production processes in order to fulfil our responsibilities to the Eurofighter programme.”

In terms of getting the major airframe components such as wings and fuselage from the suppliers to the respective production lines, suppliers responsible for constructing subsystems are given a purchase order and a valid requirement date regarding when their products will need to arrive at the assembly lines for insertion into the aircraft.

One interesting point to note is that Eurofighter GmbH has eschewed using a ‘hub' system by which aircraft parts are accumulated at one location and then redistributed to the national assembly lines in favour of a system which lets suppliers despatch their parts straight to the prime contractors and from there, pass on to the assembly plants. One of the attractions of using a time-scheduled system is that it ensures the components reach production lines on time. This reduces the accumulation of parts at assembly lines where they could take up valuable floor space which could otherwise be used for aircraft production.

Cascading design and production responsibility to the prime contractors and then on to the second tier suppliers has given hundreds of specialist aerospace engineering firms around Europe a steady flow of work and involvement in a leading European-wide advanced aerospace programme. While on a political level the programme has not always run smoothly, the process by which such a complex aircraft comes together has evolved into a straightforward and efficient process.



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