It is rare for two serving Air Force chiefs to concur, but in an appraisal of the Eurofighter Typhoon, one of the two contenders for a multi-billion dollar Indian Air Force tender, they unanimously voted it as very reliable as seen in the operations against Libya.

But they couldn't guarantee if the plane would be economical to maintain over the long run. This is a key requirement for the IAF as it sets about selecting the vendor for a 126 fighter aircraft tender.

Taking time off to meet Indian journalists at the International Military Air Show here, Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force Stephen Dalton found that the Typhoon, over the years, had developed to the point of delivering more hours per airframe than “we could imagine.”

From 22 to 24 hours per month, the last three months have seen the numbers go up to 80 hours. “It is more reliable. But these are still early days. I won't say we have sorted out all the issues. We have to get right some of them. At the same time we are very happy with it from the point of view of availability,” Sir Dalton observed.

“It has a long way to go. I don't know about total life cycle costs, but I know that its availability and performance has been outstanding,” he added.

German Air Force chief Aarne Kreuzinger-Janik, more taciturn and less given to turns of phrases, fully supported his British counterpart's analysis about the plane's reliable all-weather multi-role platform architecture.

“We can build on it for the future operational availability. It is more than we expected. But it still in the beginning phase. Six years of service does not allow you to see 30 years ahead,” he concurred.

Asked whether the financial crises would stymie plans to induct more Typhoons, both air chiefs said in future this fighter would form the backbone of their air forces. In other words, more and more Typhoons would continue to be inducted in Germany and Britain regardless of the fiscal soup in which Europe finds itself in today.

They also touched on the other point under intense discussion in the Indian strategic community — induction of futuristic technologies — with one section claiming that the type of radar sought by the IAF is unlikely to be provided soon. Sir Dalton replied by pointing out that as a military man, he would have liked those capacities “yesterday.” He proclaimed himself satisfied by the “reasonably proven” capability of the fighter aircraft and hoped there would be a balance between capability and aircraft availability.

As both air chiefs professed their preference for fewer types of aircraft in their fleet, they were asked if the Indian government should not opt for the French Rafale because the IAF already has its maker Dassault's Mirage-2000 in its inventory. Sir Dalton said: “It is a matter of judgement for the IAF and the Indian government.” He went on to add that technology has moved on at a real pace. So there could be no direct comparison between a 15-20 year old technology based aircraft (Mirage) whose avionics and software would be very different from a new offering. General Kreuzinger-Janik, who will be hosting the next IAF chief in August, agreed.