Update: The Future Combat Air System (FCAS)

The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program of Germany, France and Spain represents a major European tri-national effort to design and build a sixth-generation fighter aircraft. Like other related fighter programs such as the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and the UK, Italy and Japan’s Global Combat Aircraft Program (GCAP), FCAS (now better known as SCAF, for its acronym in French) presents a network approach that employs a set of integrated systems.

The project includes a Next Generation Fighter (NGF) that will operate in concert with autonomous aerial platforms called Remote Carriers (RCs), all communicating via a cloud-based data link with complementary assets in the air, ground, space domains and cyber.

One of the main objectives of the FCAS is the production of a new generation advanced fighter for each of the partner countries. The FCAS NGF is expected to replace the Eurofighter Typhoons of the German and Spanish air forces and the Dassault Rafale of France. The project will integrate advanced technologies that will include elements of augmented reality. Geopolitically, FCAS is likely to bolster NATO air superiority and provide a cover against eastern air threats in the European region, perhaps to counter a possible upgraded sixth-generation Su-57. Those responsible for the trilateral hope that the complete program and the combat platform will be operational in 2040, although this objective is probably too optimistic.

Origins and chronology

FCAS was first made public at a joint press conference in Paris in July 2017 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. 2018 following an agreement by the German and French governments, the CEOs of France’s Dassault Aviation and Airbus announced that their respective companies would lead the FCAS project, with Dassault tasked with the primary development of the NGF.

At the 2019 Paris Air Show, Spain announced it officially joined the Franco-German collaboration as a third contributing member. It should be noted that although the tri-national company has been primarily called FCAS, it has also been branded in Spain as Système de Combat Aèrien Futur (SCAF) and often grouped as FCAS/SCAF.

The project moved to Phase 1A, an 18-month contract to start work on the FCAS demonstrator, in early 2020 after Germany and France signed with Dassault and Airbus. Following a delay, partly due to disagreements between the contractors, a follow-up contract for the demonstrator Phase 1B was awarded in late 2022, adding additional contractors from each nation. Phase 1B is expected to finish in 2025.

Another important milestone came at the 2023 Paris Air Show when President Macron announced the inclusion of Belgium as a partner nation. However, at this time, Belgium’s participation status is limited to an observation role.

Phase 2 will follow Phase 1B, with the goal of conducting a Remote Carrier demonstration flight in 2028 and an NGF flight in 2029. Currently, FCAS officials anticipate production to occur sometime in 2030.

Budget and partners

Although the recent addition of Belgium to the FCAS project as an observer is unlikely to make a financial or development contribution, it does suggest the possibility of FCAS expanding its membership associations in the future. FCAS’s phased development approach has led to segmenting recruitment and funding as the program progresses.

Seed funding was first allocated by Germany and France to Dassault and Airbus under the two-year Joint Concept Studies (JCS) in early 2019 for €65 million. The 2020 Phase 1A demonstrator development contract then saw France and Germany apply €77.5m each, with Spain being announced as a fully integrated partner later in the year. The trilateral effort launched its next step in December 2022, with the Phase 1B demonstrator component jointly funded for €3.2 billion.

The program’s total costs can only be estimated for such a complex and expensive undertaking. However, the French government had previously planned a total investment of between €50 and €80 billion for all partners. According to current forecasts, the total development and production costs will exceed 100,000 million euros.


The FCAS initiative represents a European consortium with a growing list of contractors assigned to various project parts. FCAS progress is currently at Phase 1B, with Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra and EUMET acting as prime contractors, with subcontractors coming from each of the three countries.

This phase is articulated around nine different technological pillars or domains: NGWS Consistency, NGF, NGF twin-engine, unmanned systems (RCs), Combat Cloud (CC), Simulation, Sensors, Low Observability (stealth), and Common Environment of Work (CWE).

In addition to the main contractors, the team also includes ITP (Spain), MBDA (France and Germany), SATNUS (Spain), Thales (France) and FCMS (Germany), each of which is responsible for tasks distributed among the pillars.

Export market and prospects

Although FCAS’s health appears shaky at times due to internal tensions, the scope of the program and multinational investments could position the effort for success. The economies, labor markets and defense industries of Germany, France and Spain are likely to benefit from participation in FCAS for decades to come.

As with the sixth-generation fighter side projects, NGAD and GCAP, aircraft acquisition estimates for FCAS a dozen or more years into operational capability are approximations at best. Given that FCAS will be the successor to each country’s 4.5 generation Typhoon and Rafale fighters, it is logical to expect Germany and France to purchase the largest share of NGFs, followed by Spain, with the total easily reaching hundreds of units of planes.

Details about the exportability of NGFs are also unclear, although early reports pointed to possible friction between France’s more progressive export policy and Germany’s stricter views on arms sales. However, those responsible for the program have indicated a shared desire to agree on a mutual export strategy for FCAS.

With a similar development and production goal as GCAP, the FCAS NGF will likely compete with the GCAP aircraft for next-generation fighter sales in the European market and possibly with the NGAD if released for export. The latest addition of Belgium, albeit as an observer, is a promising sign for European collaboration and suggests the possibility of future global partners and buyers.

However, the latest news from the 2023 Paris Air Show reveals that the program is once again running into obstacles. Following Belgium’s announcement, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier questioned the 2040 operating calendar, estimating a date closer to 2042-2044. Critics also harshly pointed to the project’s slow pace, infighting, and lack of observable progress compared to GCAP’s more stable situation.