Yesterday we published an article asking whether the MBB-VFW Fokker canard delta tactical fighter study was in some ways a superior aircraft to the later Eurofighter Typhoon. As a counterpoint to this we asked the opinions of a former Typhoon combat veteran, Mike Sutton – and Jim Smith who worked on the Typhoon’s development advising the Project Office on Mass and Performance.
“While clearly driven by some of the same design objectives as Typhoon – high energy manoeuvrability, low wave drag and good supersonic performance – I would still regard an emphasis on low-speed, high alpha manoeuvrability as a mistake. Given the ability of all aspect missiles like IRIS-T and ASRAAM, as well as longer-range missiles like Meteor and AMRAAM, to successfully engage pre-merge and at high off-boresight angles, close-in combat has become a situation to avoid, due to the likelihood of a mutual kill.
At various times, vectoring nozzles were proposed and rejected for Typhoon, partly for this reason, and also to avoid the weight penalty and additional complexity in the control system. As usual in International projects, there were different perspectives from the nations, particularly in the early days. Germany in particular used to have national policies in place preventing military action outside its borders, leading to a focus on Air Defence rather than Air Superiority, and, at least to some extent, limiting its interest in long-range offensive strike. Over time, changes in geo-politics and security settings have changed those views. The VFW-Fokker design might have been superior to the MiG-29, but would perhaps struggle against advanced Sukhoi developments and have limited strike capability.
Of course, add an IRST, E-Scan radar, Meteor, ASRAAM or IRIS-T, stores pylons and systems, EW defences and decoys and you might have such a good BVR aircraft that you wouldn’t need the thrust vectoring. And that’s pretty much what happened.”
- Jim Smith worked on the Typhoon advising the Project Office on Mass and Performance
“I had never heard of the MBB-VFW Fokker before so it’s interesting to see the popularity of canards during that era of aircraft design. As for turning performance, post-stall manoeuvre while being impressive at air shows, is really a last ditch capability in air combat. Most of the time combat aircraft want the ability to target and engage at range, something the Typhoon can do exceedingly well.
If an intercept has gone all the way to a merge (in itself a failure of sorts) even then most of the time fighters want to maintain energy and speed: speed provides tactical options and manoeuvrability when fighting. A turning fight is all about nose position. If you are beaten down on energy having greater nose authority through thrust vectoring or high alpha is useful, but is a corner you end up in rather than one you would aim for.
A rate fighter such as Typhoon will turn well at 9g, has huge thrust-to-weight advantages which means it can use the vertical when most fighters are out of energy and has a high off-boresight missile that the pilot can aim by just looking at their adversary. So the jet is not badly placed. All fighters are a compromise of sorts. More alpha would be welcomed, but not at the cost of any of the jet’s superb multi-role capabilities which have been extensively proven on operations in recent years.”
-Mike Sutton, Former Typhoon Combat pilot