“There is a good work environment, and deadlines are being met,” declared Major General Jean-Luc Moritz about the Franco-German-Spanish project of the future fighter system.
A leading French Air and Space Force officer told reporters this week that the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project is studying four different fighter designs and that the Final election will take place in the first quarter of 2025.
Major General Jean-Luc Moritz, who heads the French segment of the trilateral initiative, also known by its French acronym SCAF, told reporters on Friday that he hopes to narrow the selection to two designs by June 2024 and have one final design ready “for ”March 2025.
It’s a sign of progress for a program that has faced political headwinds almost from the beginning. On November 1, a British newspaper claimed that Germany could abandon the project.
Moritz told reporters that he saw no signs that Germany was about to abandon the program, stating that “there is a good working environment and the deadlines are being met.”
His counterparts on the SCAF steering committee are Division General José Antonio Gutiérrez Sevilla for Spain and Brigadier General Markus Schetilin for Germany, with whom Moritz says he has “a very good working relationship.”
Moritz stressed the importance of developing the NGWS (Next Generation Weapon System) to fulfill the ambitions of the FCAS.
The NGWS involves the development of a new generation fighter (NGF), accompanied by remotely piloted aircraft, or co-pilot drones, called Remote Carriers, which will connect to each other digitally through a combat “cloud.” The NGWS may be deployed autonomously or in a network with other air, naval, ground or space combat or command systems.
The trilateral Implementation Agreement 3, signed by the FCAS governments in August 2021, approved the work element of the NGWS.
Since then, on behalf of France, Spain and Germany, the French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) awarded the three main industry leaders – Dassault, Airbus and Indra – and other key suppliers a €3.2 billion contract to launch Phase 1B of the FCAS in December 2022, giving the green light to work to develop a next-generation flying fighter demonstrator.
The three nations continue to work on the three elements of the NGWS: the fighter aircraft, remote carriers and combat cloud.
«We have to develop them by trying to foresee the threats we are likely to face in the time horizon of 2030 to 2040. What will our adversaries think? “We have to maintain operational superiority through superior technology, but our adversaries also move faster,” he noted, adding that Remote Carriers “should cost a fraction of the fighter because they will be the ones taking the risks.”
Air superiority is a principle that will continue into the future; Moritz said, “So I want a tool that can exchange quality, up-to-date data in real-time, probably uses quantum calculators instead of computers; I want to be able to maneuver from the ground, air or sea and I want to be faster, stronger and higher than my enemy.
He said the three nations have agreed on a number of key capabilities for the aircraft. These include stealth, maneuverability, the ability to saturate the enemy and the combat cloud used in what he called the far edge, the edge and the core.
The far edge is closest to users (the heart of the battle) but furthest from cloud data centers. Aircraft such as AWACS would intervene on the periphery and would be located a little closer to the data centers in the cloud. Core refers to operations located far behind the front line and closer to data centers.
Among the challenges facing developers is the combat cloud architecture, which “must be developed natively to be interoperable with aircraft from other NATO countries,” Moritz repeatedly stressed, using the example of the mobile phones developed and manufactured by different companies but capable of connecting to each other thanks to the general Internet protocol (IP). “And I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll get there,” he said.
He stated that the need for interoperability was “very real” because, in 2030, the European air forces will operate almost 1,000 aircraft developed and manufactured in Europe (about 300 French Rafales, 450 English Typhoons and more than 200 Swedish Gripens) in addition to just under 400 F-35 developed in the United States.
He also believes that artificial intelligence will be on board plans to help the pilot make operational and tactical decisions. «It will not be there to help the pilot fly the plane because that will be unnecessary. The flight of the plane will be controlled automatically,” he explained.
He added that of the seven “pillars” of development – aircraft, engine, remote carriers, combat cloud, simulation, sensors and stealth – currently in development, the “most effervescent” at the moment is the combat cloud, “which we are all I agree that it will be a totally European development.
He said all countries agreed that aircraft and remote carriers would have to be able to operate from aircraft carriers. What “remains a pending issue,” she admitted, is the exportability of the plane. France, for example, wants to be able to export NGF.
Moritz also confirmed that Belgium would join the program as an observer under a memorandum of understanding before the end of the year to become a full partner at some point in the future.
As for Sweden, I have noted that it will be at least two years before the country decides what it wants for the future of its aviation. (Sweden indicated it would not decide until 2031 at the recent Madrid International Fighter Conference.)
Moritz also took pains to explain that the British-Italian-Japanese Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), formerly known as Tempest, is not comparable to the SCAF because it only involves the development of the next generation of fighter aircraft. It is not a system of systems like FCAS/SCAF.