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Shaping the future of European Aerospace industry with the Future Combat Air System

The development of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) should ensure Europe’s technological leadership and its sovereignty in matters of defence in the aerospace sector for decades to come. To replace the current generation of fighter aircraft, Germany and its European partners – particularly France – are confronted with important decisions and there is a need for a European solution against non-European competitors (e.g. F35). Some nations have started concretising their plans for procurement and defining the requirements needed for the next generation of combat air systems. Cooperation must be seen in a European context beyond the initiative launched by France and Germany. It is now time to define the project’s political direction to ensure its success and preserve European technological skill and autonomy in defence.

A “system of systems”

FCAS is more than a combat aircraft. FCAS is a system of systems consolidating a large array of interconnected and interoperable elements: a new generation fighter aircraft, unmanned MALE drones (medium-altitude, long endurance), the current aircraft fleet (which will still be in service after 2040), cruise missiles and drone swarms. 

The entire system will be connected and operable with a vast perimeter of mission aircrafts, satellites, NATO systems as well as land and naval combat systems. The new generation fighter aircraft will complete and eventually replace the current Rafale and Eurofighters from 2040 onwards. Other industrial European actors from the defence sector as well as other nations could also be called to contribute with their related public funding and industrial expertise to FCAS.

A push towards high-technology

As the most important defence project in European history, FCAS will assure the European autonomy in the air and space domain all the while allowing it to consolidate its political and military alliances. Furthermore, the ambitious development of avant-garde high-technologies will not only reinforce the European industry but also, as current trends indicate, could also benefit and closely interact with the civil sector. We can therefore favourably predict that FCAS will strongly shape the European landscapes for decades to come while reinforcing Europe’s competitiveness within the high-technology sector, through connectivity, use of Artificial intelligence, manned-unmanned teaming and robotics, cloud and other key technologies.

Becoming a tech leader

Airbus and Dassault Aviation are joining forces

Given such ambitious deadlines, together European nations must elaborate a common roadmap planning the necessary requirements and targets set by the countries involved. The launch of a joint study by France and Germany this year is a critical milestone. A contract for the development of the FCAS demonstrator with its different components (new fighter, system of system and cloud, unmanned effectors…) should be annexed to the joint study and should explicitly highlight the details behind both countries’ engagement from 2025 onwards.

As part of ILA Berlin 2018, Airbus and Dassault have announced their intention of working together on developing FCAS. “Airbus and Dassault Aviation have the ideal know-how to lead a project like FCAS”, confirmed Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. Another important step was reached with the signature of a letter of intent between Germany and France on 19 June 2018. But Germany and France’s commitment is not enough. FCAS should be and is a European project that transcends national borders, bringing in involvement from countries such as Spain, Italy, Sweden, Belgium and more. For Europe to secure its defence autonomy, it requires the commitment and support of all nations. Not only is FCAS one of the most important European industry and defence programmes for the years to come, but it is also an important integrator towards a larger common, united European defence and security programme.

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