PARIS (Reuters) - The countries and companies behind Europe's Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet have agreed to spend 53.7 million euros (£47.8 million) to study the long-term evolution of the advanced fighter jet and its engine, they said on Wednesday.
The study contracts will span 19 months for the aircraft, and nine months for the engine, identifying potential technology enhancements for the jet's mission systems, engine, human machine interface and electronic warfare equipment.
The work is aimed at keeping the Eurofighter Typhoon fleet operationally effective for combat for decades to come, even as Europe begins work on two rival next-generation aircraft that are slated to enter service in 2040, officials said.
The Eurofighter consortium includes Airbus, Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Leonardo.
Airbus and France's Dassault Aviation have begun work on a new combat air system to be funded by Germany, France and Spain.
BAE Systems and Leonardo are working on a rival project known as Tempest.
Italian General Gabriele Salvestroni, general manager of the NATO Eurofighter & Tornado Management Agency (NETMA), said the study contracts marked a new chapter in the jet's history.
"The LTE study contracts will set out a clear road map for the future of the platform that will make it relevant and resilient for decades to come," he said.
The Eurofighter Typhoon has racked up more than 530,000 flying hours, with 623 aircraft ordered and 558 delivered.
Peter Maute, Eurofighter director of marketing, said 150 to 200 more aircraft could be sold to international customers in coming years, on top of already approved orders expected from partner countries such as Germany.
The Eurofighter is competing for orders against the U.S. F-35 fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in Switzerland and Finland.
Maute said the company was also still engaged in a competition in Canada, and had not yet decided whether to proceed.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)