Rishi Sunak has already called Scholz and sent a whole Tim Barrow, National Security Advisor, to Berlin. No success so far. Germany has vetoed the sale of Typhoon fighters to Saudi Arabia. And for the British, that’s a major loss.
The Eurofighter Typhoon was conceived in the mid-1980s by a consortium of major European arms manufacturers from Italy, Spain, Germany and Britain. Plus Airbus. In the whole chain, more than 100 thousand people are involved, and almost half, 40 thousand — in Britain, where BAE Systems attracts 5 thousand people directly for the production of the aircraft at its factories.
When the fighter was released in 2003, it turned out that its flying qualities are quite modest compared to its competitors. 600 airplanes were ordered — actually, by the four countries that are part of the consortium, and four from outside: Austria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Four years later, a scandal broke out: Airbus was suspected of bribing Austrians to place an order for its air force, but nothing was proved. Then Austria decided to completely give up on Eurofighters.
Over time, in the mid-2010s, it became clear that since the Typhoon was conceived more as a fighter, it turned out that its bomber qualities did not suit the General Staffs of European armies. By that time, they were already betting on multirole aircraft. In 2017, BAE drastically slowed down the production of the aircraft and laid off 1,400 people.
Thus, this is a very sensitive topic for the UK. Typhoon production is part of a long-term British-Saudi program worth £65 billion. BAE Systems once rejoiced that the Eurofighter program was sort of saved and Saudi Arabia would buy as many planes as they had skies to spare.
And the Saudis 10 years ago bought 72 aircraft and signed a memorandum with the UK to produce another 48 fighters. But then it turned out that the trouble came from their own.
And the following happened. Chancellor Scholz announced in July that Germany would use its right of veto in the consortium and veto the sale of the remaining 48 fighters. His motivation was that the Typhoons had been used by Saudi Arabia and coalition forces during the Yemeni civil war, in which 10,000 people were killed.
At stake were 5,000 workers at two BAE plants and about 15,000 contractors who worked for the program in one way or another. Every year, the construction of Typhoons alone brought £1.4 billion to the British treasury. Clearly, as soon as something bad was smelled, England’s chief lobbyist, Prime Minister Sunak, got involved.
Generally, there is a clause in the original contract, according to which a consortium member can move the production of its part of the components to another country, but even British lawyers are unlikely to cling to it, because it will take years to litigate, and it will not improve Anglo-German relations at all. German experts agree that this is a rather weak side of the process.
Diplomacy is the only way. Scholz made it clear that his partner’s aspirations are obvious, but he also cannot oppose his coalition in this situation, and there are divided opinions there. Apparently, the solution has been brewing for a long time, because last year the Chancellor signed a document authorizing the supply of spare parts for the Eurofighter to Saudi Arabia. This seems to have been a test case — the Chancellor wanted to test the government’s reaction: what would happen if the question of banning the supply of the jets themselves suddenly arose.
«Last year we welcomed Germany’s decision to extend for three years the licenses to sell spare parts to Saudi Arabia», the UK government said in a communiqué. — «The United Kingdom (in the current situation) remains committed to the strategic defense relationship with Saudi Arabia».
The German leadership’s decision set off a chain reaction across Europe. The first question was the future of Britain, Japan and Italy’s joint project to build and develop the next-generation Stealth fighter — Tempest. The launch is scheduled for 2035, but now the trouble is that the British wanted to involve in the financing of the project… Saudi Arabia.
A joint project between France, Germany and Spain to produce not even a fighter jet, but, as they call it, an Aircraft Fighter Combat System has emerged. They say it was supposed to be a competitor to the Tempest in the next decade.
Things are no better with the Franco-German project to create a ground combat vehicle, which in the future should replace the German Leopard 2 and French Leclerc tanks. Now the project is barely breathing, of course, but the matter is heading towards its freezing.
«Britain is seriously disappointed by this behavior of the German partners», an English expert told the Times newspaper on condition of anonymity. — «We have spent a lot of money and time developing projects like the Typhoon, and now, of course, we would like to see if we will pay it off at all».
Indeed, such expensive projects, (not always weapons ones), which take not only billions but also years to develop, become dependent on the will of the coalition and even on one of the partners, who cannot go against the tide, because it could end up in a political crisis for him or her, or even loss of power.
Germany has also realized the complexity of the problem. So far, they are preparing a draft law that could satisfy all parties. When making decisions on the export of Typhoon-type weapon systems, which are created in an international consortium, a vote should be taken. The «weight» of each partner’s vote should be proportional to its share in the added value of the project. That is, if such a law existed now, Sunak would have no problems.