Kuwait delays the Eurofighter deal

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A contract for 28 Eurofighter aircraft was to sign on 31st January between Italy and Kuwait. As an Italian Ministry of Defence source referred, the signature was delayed for “procedural reasons”. No leak about next meeting.

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The contract follows a memorandum of understanding signed between the Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti and the Kuwaiti colleague Khaled al-Jarrah al-Sabah in September 2015. According to the document, Kuwait has ordered 28 Eurofighter Typhoon (22 single-seat and 6 twin-seat) for a total value of 8.7 billion dollars. Announced deadline in 20 years.

The Eurofighter Consortium is driven by aerospace and defence industries of four European countries: Germany and Spain (Airbus), United Kingdom (BAE System) and Italy (Finmeccanica). But it’s the Italian company to grab the contract with Kuwait. Over 50% of the value of the deal will be earned by Finmeccanica, which will provide the design, development and production of the aircraft (Alenia Aermacchi) but also the on-board electronic systems (Selex ES).

The deal signed with Finmeccanica ends a negotiation begun in 2010, after Kuwait decision to replace the existing fleet of F-18 Hornet held by its air force. Initially, the choice fell on a new fleet of F-18 Super Hornet produced by the United States. However, repeated delays in the acquisition induced the emirate to opt for the Eurofighter programme. It is likely this choice also hides military and strategic considerations.

The F-18 is a swing-role, twin-engine and supersonic fighter, able to carry air-to-air and air-to-land weaponry. Though employed for several tasks (aerial recognition, close air support, interdiction and fighter escort), the F-18 is mainly a fighter-bomber and was introduced in Kuwaiti armed forces after the Gulf War.

Despite sharing similar features with the F-18 (both are twin-engine and multi-role aircraft), the Eurofighter Typhoon is primarily an air interdiction and air superiority fighter. Faster and more manoeuvrable, the aircraft is provided with electronically scanned array radar and advanced navigation, discovery and attack sensors. Technologically advanced munitions, mainly designed for air-to-air combat, complete the technical specifications of the aircraft, which has already shown its value in different operational theatres, such as Libya or the Baltic States.

Al-Shabab’s choice to rely on Eurofighter seems to reflect a national strategy aimed to strengthening the defensive military capabilities rather than the offensive ones. Twenty-eight air-superiority fighter jets will ensure greater safety in Kuwaiti skies, given their ability to intercept enemy aircraft or planes illegally entering Kuwait’s air space. Indeed, high speed and manoeuvrability make the Eurofighter the ideal candidate to intervene, should an imminent threat from neighbouring countries arise. Considering Kuwait geographical position and the level of insecurity that characterises the Middle East, Kuwaiti decision does not sound that inappropriate.

Kuwait’s urgency in reaching a deal first with the US, then with Italy, shows a feeling of uncertainty and the necessity to strengthen its military assets, in the view of a deterioration in the regional environment. After latest delays due to caveats about pilots’ training (Kuwait has agreed to train its pilots in Italy and not in the UK as initially requested), last obstacle is the approval from the Audit Court of Kuwait, which –apparently- didn’t have enough time to evaluate the final terms of the deal (Best and Final Offer, BAFO). As Minister Pinotti highlighted, during Wednesday meeting in Rome the Kuwaiti Minister of Defence has reiterated the willingness to sign the deal as soon as possible.

On its side, Italy has all the reasons to hold on such a commitment. First, a 20-year contract with a Middle Eastern country gives Italy the chance to reinforce its presence in a key strategic area, rich of commercial opportunities. Secondly, the contract gives Finmeccanica a significant economic momentum. As gen. Tricarico, former Chief of the Italian Air Force, states, “the contract is particularly important because it allows maintaining production lines -which would have fallen into disuse over years-, thus allowing also keeping jobs and know-how skills”. Finally, Italy’s leading role in the deal will have a two-fold benefit on our country: on one hand, it will allow Italy to gain weight within the Eurofighter consortium; on the other, a renewed confidence in its capabilities could lead Italy to rethink its position in the international affairs.

 

Paola Fratantoni

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