The Ultimate Customer Hotline 

As the collective ‘brain trust’ behind the Eurofighter Typhoon, the International Weapon System Support Centre (IWSSC) is as crucial as it is unheralded.

Few outsiders realise it even exists (there’s nothing else like it in the global combat air world) and fewer still understand how it has become the living body that makes the weapons system tick.

Based in Munich, the IWSSC opened for business in March 2003, shortly before Eurofighter Typhoon entered into service. On the face of it the IWSSC offers a mundane service, providing technical In-Service Support for all Eurofighter Typhoon Weapon System products. In essence it answers a wide variety of questions from maintenance to the actual operation of the aircraft.

But to truly understand its value you have to consider how you’d feel if you were an engineer on a base facing an issue that you’ve never encountered before and under pressure to ensure you meet availability targets. Who do you turn to? Well, if you’re part of the Eurofighter community the answer could be the IWSSC.

Representatives from the UK, German, Italian and Spanish Air Forces are all part of the IWSSC, as well as industry representatives. RAF Engineering Officer Squadron Leader Dom Marshall has spent the last three and a half years as the UK’s senior representative for the Typhoon Project Team at the IWSSC. He’s also been the man the UK Typhoon team turn to when they’re puzzling over an issue.

“This talent pool inside the IWSSC is one of the great benefits of the whole Eurofighter programme. I’ve never seen it in any other multinational project that I’ve worked on. You’ve got industry and the military customer working cooperatively side-by-side," says Dom.

“There’s usually a barrier but not here. One of the major benefits of having the IWSSC is the osmosis of information and experience sharing, cooperation and the ability to do business face-to-face.

“It’s the collective power of the industry partners that makes the Eurofighter what it is. It’s been put in the hands of users who want to get as much as possible out of it.”

It’s a busy place too. The IWSSC’s helpdesk system deals with more than 600 requests each year and these range from the simple to the complex. So what’s it like on the inside of the organisation. Says Dom: “Inside the IWSSC you see how big and complex the programme is. Some days it’s amazing how you can get a quick answer to an issue, of course some days it’s frustrating too.

Pic: RAF Engineering Officer Squadron Leader Dom Marshall

“If you’re back in the MOD or on an RAF squadron, you’re very focused on the job at hand, not the complexity of the programme and what’s required to arrive at a solution or answer, so it can be frustrating for those guys. But the unique benefit of us being here is that we can manage things through the system by hand. You can only convey so much through a phone call or an email, but with us here, as a military customer, here you can apply real context. You can say with authority ‘Industry, we are asking you to drop everything else to do this but this is why it’s critical.’ That can work to really good effect here.

“Equally there are benefits for industry people working within the IWSSC. They may know the aircraft, its systems and the design inside out but may have very little experience of how the air forces operate the aircraft on the frontline. We have that ability to explain the RAF procedures and processes to industry, because we’ve been through them.”

To any outsider this culture of sharing information sounds like common sense but, of course in a world of global politics, concerns over sovereignty, and control, over black box data, such an approach is a rarity.

Says Dom: “One of the key founding aims of the IWSSC was mutual cooperation and information sharing, and on a regular basis we share information and questions between nations, look at issues and share solutions to in-service issues. This might extend to the loan of equipment and support where one nation may have an excellent facility for fixing something, or a shortfall in another.

“Defence programmes from other nations come to look at the IWSSC. It’s a unique organisation because you’ve got representatives from military, industry, programme managers, design team, development people, flight test support, finance, safety - all these niche specialisations all coming together.

“We’re not competing against each other. The weapon system is competing on the global stage and we all want to maximise the availability and utility for whatever needs we’ve been set.

"Our ability to share information and experiences really pays dividends. Prior to coming to Typhoon I worked on another programme with multiple customers but you would never expect somebody in the other customer’s air forces to contact the team in UK MOD and ask how they solved a problem.

“Here you have that unique ability to fire a question into the IWSSC. We may take some time to get you an answer – if we’ve never seen it before – but we do have an established route to get an answer and that’s priceless.”