The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is now Germany and France's most modern vision of their own fighter. The German Air Force is currently armed with obsolete Tornado fighter-bombers, which are constantly in short supply of spare parts. The Germans would be happy to get rid of them, but only Tornado is capable of carrying B61 nuclear bombs, which are deployed in the country at the kind request of the United States. And the decommissioning of aircraft is just around the corner - in 2025, all Tornados should retire. The option of replacing it with the Eurofighter Typhoon can only partially save the situation - certification for equipping with nuclear bombs will take several years. Therefore, the most logical step on the part of the Luftwaffe is to buy fifth-generation F-35s from overseas friends. Several generals from the Air Force advocate this, but the Ministry of Defense and the government of the country are not enthusiastic about such an initiative. As a result, Lieutenant General Karl Müllner lost his post as commander of the country's air force in May 2018 for his public statements in favor of the F-35.
Luftwaffe Commander Lieutenant General Karl Müllner, sacked for lobbying the F-35
The Future Combat Air System concept was first published in the "Strategy for the Development of Combat Aviation" published by the German Ministry of Defense in May 2016. One of the FCAS components was the Next Generation Weapon System (NextGen WS), as well as variants of manned and unmanned systems. It is worth digressing a little and talking about how the FCAS program began. The abbreviation itself appeared back in 2001 in the working papers of the European Technology Development Program ETAP (European Technology Acquisition Program). The six participating countries - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - have agreed to exchange technologies and create joint prototypes. Later, under the flag of FCAS in Europe, several national aviation programs were launched at different times. In 2009, this abbreviation was called the Rafale replacement project after 2030. And in 2012, under the code FCAS, an Anglo-French program from BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation appeared to develop an airline complex based on the Taranis and nEUROn technology demonstrators. Plans to leave the UK from the European Union put an end to the project with a complete freeze on funding.
Conceptual appearance of the FCAS fighter
Let's go back to the original FCAS. Airbus is working on the concept of the new fighter. His management prefers the manned version of the NextGen WS. The main argument against unmanned vehicles is the impossibility of achieving satisfactory autonomy parameters by 2030-2040. As a result, the main layout concept of the program is a two-seater aircraft, the crew of which is represented by a pilot and a drone operator. Airbus conceived within the framework of FCAS the concept of using a strike complex in the form of a "swarm", which includes both manned aircraft and UAVs. In accordance with this idea, the main load will be borne by inexpensive and simple unmanned "mules" equipped with sensors and weapons, and also connected by secure information channels. The engineers chose an intermediate control scheme for the strike group, not yet unmanned (the operator is located nearby in a fighter plane), but no longer piloted (the strikes are mainly delivered by UAVs). On July 13, 2017, the leaders of the two countries, Germany and France, agreed on plans to jointly develop a new European fighter jet on the fields of the Franco-German Council in Paris. And on November 8, 2017, Airbus DS Strategy Director Antoine Nogier presented the updated concept of the Future Air Power fighter. It is interesting that this time the new machine is not being designed as a replacement for the Tornado, but as a successor to the Typhoon, that is, it should appear in 2045. At the presentation, the new aircraft was called the trivial "New Fighter" and was left in a two-seat configuration. The entire set of a gentleman of generations 5-6 is present here in abundance - stealth, and supersonic as a cruising mode, and the presence of sensor drones going ahead.
Vision of the New Fighter from Airbus DS
Zephir-type HASP (High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite) pseudo-satellite - one of the members of the New Fighter team
A400M drops a group of Remote Carriers drones to help New Fighter to suppress air defense
The Astrobus is one of the components that keep the strike group informed about the combat situation.
The highlight of the New Fighter platform should be a new reconnaissance, surveillance and reconnaissance system (ISR - Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), as well as communication equipment with "pseudo-satellites" HASP (High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite) of the Zephir type. HASP is designed to provide the fighter with information from its airborne radars, scanning the battlefield from high altitudes. The most interesting thing is that the transport A400M was also dragged into this company, which will carry reconnaissance and strike UAVs (Remote Carriers) in its belly. This technique will be involved in the event of a collision of fighters with a serious enemy air defense system. Drones will suppress it according to the above-mentioned "swarm" scheme, together with the New Fighter fighter, which will lead the overall coordination of the action. Some of the drones from the "swarm" will deal with electronic warfare, some will directly engage air defense targets, clearing the way for manned vehicles. People from Airbus did not forget about the AWACS aircraft based on their own A330, which in this topic plays the role of a signal repeater from satellites on the Astrobus platform.
Future Air Power concept with Airbus New Fighter
Networked structure revolving around New Fighter
The next informational occasion to recall the future of the European fighter was an interview with the head of Airbus DS to the French newspaper Les Echos, in which he mentioned that “the joint Franco-German project provides a unique opportunity to promote the rapprochement of European countries. France and Germany should be leaders in such a union, inviting other European states to join them, which so desire. " Dirk Hocke rightly noted that the maintenance of three fighters Rafale, Typhoon and Tornado at once is too expensive for Europe and every effort should be made to develop a single platform for the future. Moreover, Hocke added: "Taking into account the old models, there are currently more than 20 types of fighters in the arsenal of the EU countries - this is a completely abnormal situation." Let's paraphrase the words of the head of Airbus: Europeans need a single fifth-sixth generation aircraft, and it is highly desirable that it be Airbus. In an interview dated November 27, 2017, Hocke recalled that the roadmap for the new fighter was supposed to be ready by June 2018. According to Les Echos, it was not possible to meet the deadlines, since the leadership of the FRG distracted from the topic of a promising fighter, focusing on the problems of forming the country's government. The beginning of 2018 was also not without discussion of the New Fighter idea, only this time the interview was given by the head of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier. In his speech for the German weekly Wirtschaftswoche, he blew the idea of Europe's purchase of the F-35 to smithereens: “I don’t think that the acquisition of a finished American product by European countries will contribute to the strategic autonomy of Europe.” It would be strange to hear something different from the head of a large European engineering company. Trappier also pointed out that only Dassault Aviation is capable of making an effective sixth generation fighter for Europe, as it has exceptional competencies in this area. At the same time, at the official level, it is Airbus DS that is the leading developer of the aircraft, and the French are content with the role of slaves.
Conclusion of an agreement between Airbus DS and Dassault Aviation on the joint development of a new generation fighter
Despite the controversy, in April 2018, the heads of Airbus DS and Dassault Aviation officially announced an agreement to develop a new generation machine. Dirk Hocke said pathetically on this occasion: “Never before has Europe been so determined to ensure and strengthen its autonomy and independence in the defense sector, both from a political and industrial point of view. Airbus DS and Dassault Aviation are the two companies with the best knowledge needed to implement an FCAS project.” The boss of Airbus DS summed up the words that the European novelty will not copy the F-35, but will step further.