Delivery of the Eurofighter IS082 to the Italian air force marks an important step in the European multi-role aircraft programme, considered the biggest international industrial partnership in the continent’s history.
Launched in November 1988 with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the corresponding Development Contract in response to the operative requirements of Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain, the project sees the involvement of the principal aeronautical and engine industries in the participating nations.
Nine countries have adopted the Eurofighter so far: the four partners in the program - Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain - plus Austria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar, ordering a total of 623 planes so far. 26 years after the first prototype first flew, production of the aircraft continues in the four countries, and the program is ready to make another leap in terms of technology, systems, aerodynamics and engine development. This will allow it to continue being the key element in the air defences of the countries where it is already in service or will be in the near future.
In order to understand the significance of this key pillar of the European aerospace industry, we spoke to two prominent figures in Italy, one who has previously worked on the Eurofighter programme, and one who is still working on it, handling the transition to the new generation Typhoon.
We start by talking to engineer Eros Lojacono, who began his career with Piaggio before joining what was then called Aeritalia in 1970. After a few years working on the preliminary design, he became the company’s head of flight technology, concerned with the AMX fighter-bomber and the Tornado (an Italian/German/British programme for a long-range interdiction aircraft). Appointed Technical Manager, Lojacono took care of all aspects of development of the AMX and then supervised the Eurofighter programme right from the beginning, taking part in the design phase overseeing technical aspects of the project all the way up to the completion of both ground and flight testing of the Italian prototypes. As a member of the programme’s technical direction team, which included personnel from all four nations, he was in charge of coordinating programme management. He completed his career with Alenia Aeronautica in charge of Research and Future Products.
Mr. Lojacono, the Eurofighter programme started out with two goals: supplying advanced operational capabilities to the air forces while consolidating the industrial and technological skills of the aeronautical industries in the participating countries, following the step forward made by Italian, German and British collaboration on the Tornado programme. How did you address this multiple challenge in operations, technological and industrial?
The programme was the result of an agreement between the four countries, which shared a requirement for a defence system destined to operate in the complex scenario of the new millennium, in which the new aircraft had to guarantee an efficacy that would evolve progressively over the years.
And so, the Eurofighter, which was created to be a multi-role platform right from the earliest stages, was very complex in industrial terms: it had to guarantee a technical performance superior to the best existing aircraft, with a need to make use of the full potential of the available technologies, and those which would mature during the programme’s lifespan, in order to achieve the stated requirements. In economic terms, the cost of the development and industrialization and the cost of purchasing and operating the aircraft had to be compatible with the economic resources of the participating countries.
One implicit requirement was that technological and industrial cooperation had to be open and fully shared among all participants in order to offer everyone all the benefits of the programme’s results. These results were of great importance for maintaining national sovereignty and present and future technological capacity, in a framework of European unity and collaboration.
One of the key aspects of the Eurofighter programme is the degree of sharing and participation among the partners in the programme and its development. Every company, while taking care of the strictly technological aspects pertinent to it, participated in joint teams and always had the opportunity to contribute its own resources to all aspects of development of the project and the programme. This meant that we were not simply users of this advanced technology, but true managers right from the start, acquiring innovative capabilities directly, in the best possible way. In this way, we made a significant contribution to the programme while achieving a level of technology never reached before.
As we have seen in Italy, nothing as technologically advanced had ever been done in aeronautics before the Eurofighter programme. In fact, the Eurofighter represented, and in many ways still represents, an example of true innovation in many ways pertaining to technology, materials and production processes. How did you handle the development of the technical capabilities and the changes in mind-set of the personnel involved that were required to start and manage the initial phases in the programme?
The company, then known as Aeritalia, was less involved in the development of the Tornado than the Germans and the British. However, thanks to its experience as an industrial leader in the AMX programme - even though it was less innovative and complex - it had plenty of experience with the definition, design, development, qualification and manufacture of modern fighter aircraft.
What the Eurofighter programme meant to Alenia was therefore an important opportunity not only to update its industrial capacity, but also to rise to the position of global player in the field of advanced fighter aircraft and become capable of making a significant contribution to the set-up and management of an overall programme on this scale.
The ability to conceive and define this process of development and qualification in cooperation with the major European aerospace companies, and the capacity to manage it and make it a success, were the true industrial goals for the future: a decisive step qualifying the company as a potential primary partner in the advanced programmes of tomorrow.
The new model of international partnership inaugurated with the Eurofighter programme turned out to be complicated, but also to be key to the development, transfer, and sharing of progress in leading aeronautical technology among the partner companies. Where did we start out in Italy, and where are we now, thanks to the Eurofighter programme?
The Eurofighter programme began with the idea of adopting the most advanced technologies with an intrinsic growth capability linked with the work on the project. To an extent, that was definitely significant, and involved the majority of the disciplines concerned: aerostructures, flight worthiness, systems technologies, propulsion, and on-board and mission avionics. These areas were increasingly integrated, with computing, software engineering, simulation of man-machine interface, and IT playing a key role in the cost-to-efficacy ratio in terms of solutions, experimentation with various elements to be qualified, and creation and testing of prototypes on ground and in flight.
Like the British and German industries, we had participated in the MRCA Tornado programme, and we all had useful experience and people prepared to work on definition of the entire process, but we were faced with plenty of challenges nonetheless.
Among the most important areas of technological growth for us, we can consider: fully digital management processes; composite material technology for major aerostructures; use of the titanium in critical areas; fly-by-wire control to manage the intrinsic aeroelastic instability and the high manouvrability of the aircraft; fully digitally engines integration; new simulation systems linked with avionics rigs for software and system development; development of safety critical software.
One of the factors of greatest significance in terms of technological growth, was that the Eurofighter was the first programme in which the complete configuration was entirely digitalised, from design to industrial production. Another innovation in the process to which Alenia made an important contribution was software development, defined as the process of software generation and experimentation. Yet another important aspect was test flights. We built an advanced test flight facility, using the top technologies and skills in Europe for management of experimental flights. Integration of propulsion is another key aspect in which we played a leading role: in a modern aircraft such as the Eurofighter, integration of propulsion with on-board systems is a key factor in flight safety and performance.
Thanks to Lojacono’s words, we have seen how the Italian aerospace industry managed the challenges of the definition and design phases of the Eurofighter program.
We now talk with Guido Sibona, VP Program Unit EFA since 2019, to hear about the situation today, and how the program continues to represent for Italy, and for a large part of the European aerospace industry, a keystone for the future.
Sibona started to work with what was then Aeritalia in 1985, beginning with Gruppo Velivoli da Combattimento, Combat Aircraft Dept., as production engineer. After coming up the ranks internally, he worked for the first phase of industrialisation and production of the Eurofighter until 2004. Then, after a spell with the tactical airlifter C-27J program, he spent several years in Grottaglie working for the Boeing 787 programme, until 2015 when he was appointed Head of Industrial Engineering in Alenia Aermacchi, a position that he held till the end of 2018.
Italy’s participation in the Eurofighter programme comes to an end today with the delivery of the Eurofighter nr. 96 for the Italian Air Force. Can you describe how work is progressing on the European fighter in Turin?
The sites in Turin and Caselle remain the centre of development and production of the Eurofighter programme in regards to the Italian share of the work. Production of the components under our responsibility (left wing and rear fuselage) comes at the end of a process involving an extended subcontracting chain, which encompasses Italy with an important contribution from our Aerostructures Division’s sites and from dozens of small and medium-sized companies. The production continuity guaranteed by several export orders in recent years has ensured we possess the highly qualified skills required to secure the final integration and operation of an aircraft as technologically advanced as the Eurofighter.
Delivery of the last Eurofighter for Italy by no means sees the end of Leonardo’s involvement in the programme. You are fully engaged in the development and simultaneous production of the version for Kuwait. How are things going on that front? What are the special features of this variant?
Assembly of the aircraft for the Kuwait Air Force started last year, and we are operating at full speed. We have several aircraft on the final assembly line in various stages of completion. The first two seater is already in the Flight-line and currently undergoing electromagnetic tests with a view to certifying the new variant. The version of Eurofighter for the Kuwait Air Force is the type’s most advanced so far. In particular, it features a new avionics configuration of the electronically scanned array radar, Captor-E, entirely developed and produced by the Euroradar consortium, headed by Leonardo and involving Leonardo’s Electronics Division.
Many years have passed since the first flight, and since then 623 examples of the Eurofighter have been ordered by 9 air forces. The outlook remains positive, undoubtedly because of the excellent work done in the definition, design and development phases. What are the long-term prospects for the Eurofighter, and what role will Italian industry play in this far-sighted project?
The Eurofighter project has served as a positive model for the integration of industry Europe-wide. Moreover, it has shown that common investment in defence is a necessary driving force of aggregation in order to cope with ongoing developments in this sector, such as 6th generation aircraft. In this regard, the Eurofighter is the ideal platform for defining the technological bridge that will lead to the future of defence aircraft. In particular, the Eurofighter’s LTE (Long Term Evolution) programme, which is currently being defined, has a 15 to 20 year scope, and aims to ensure growth in terms of additional capacity and the development and implementation of new technologies to be used in next-generation aircraft. Italian Industry is deeply involved in the project and is likely to play a central role in defining the requirements of defence in the ongoing discussions, at the international level, on the next-generation aircraft.