Future Combat Air System (FCAS) - UK + FR
The long-term future for combat air is centered on the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). FCAS will be the successor to Typhoon and may include unmanned aircraft. The UK and French governments have funded a joint project to develop unmanned prototype combat aircraft. However, the UK MOD stated in March 2017 that consideration of options for FCAS is at a very early stage.
The four-year [2011-2015] Future Combat Air System (FCAS) focused research contract, annoucned 20 December 2011, aimed to sustain and develop the UK’s critical technology and skills in this field. It would inform the MOD’s unmanned air system strategy over the coming decades to ensure that the best use is made of these new technologies.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project to replace the German Air Force's Panavia Tornado and to complement the Eurofighter Typhoon manned combat aircraft was first revealed in the Air Capability Strategy Paper released by the German government in January 2016. For Germany, FCAS was called the Next-Generation Weapon System by Airbus.
From the perspective of the Ministry, a Next Generation Weapon System in the FCAS network can only be created in a multinational European context. A national solo effort is no longer possible for such complex weapon systems. The FMoD initiated an early dialogue in Europe on common objectives, roadmaps, and options.
A European architecture of an FCAS network provides the potential required for efficient capability development and the effective maintenance of technology without confronting individual nations with unsolvable and in particular budgetary challenges. At the same time, smaller countries in particular are given the opportunity to participle in the FCAS network with small fleets. The result with regard to industry will be a targeted concentration of European technology development on the future challenges of modern weapon systems.
The future position of the FMoD on maintaining the capabilities of airborne weapon systems in the long term will be developed in the context of the planned multinational discussion on an FCAS network and will have an influence on capability development and industrial policy.
In the long term, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) will form the backbone of the effects network. The FCAS is not an individual aerial platform or an individual aircraft but rather a system of systems which, in its final development stage, will deliver airborne effects across the entire capability and intensity spectrum. As a system-of-systems approach, the FCAS encompasses the capabilities of existing weapon systems (e.g. EUROFIGHTER, TORNADO, TIGER for Germany) and future weapon systems (e.g. MALE UAS and NextGenWS).
The FMoD intended to define initial national concepts and operational requirements for an FCAS and thus also for a Next Generation Weapon System in 2016. This will provide a basis for multinational cooperation and for an assessment of joint capability requirements and their technological feasibility. Initial discussions with European partners were scheduled for 2016.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) must, for example, cover the following tasks and types of operation:
- provision of the quick reaction alert (intercept) element (QRA(I)) as part of the standing operational task of surveillance and protection of German airspace;
- defensive counterair (DCA) and offensive coun- terair (OCA), including suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD);
- air interdiction (AI), close air support (CAS), joint time sensitive targeting (JTST), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW);
- intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); see also reconnaissance network.
Apart from platforms, the right mix of weapons is required to be able to achieve appropriate effects and to prevent unintended (collateral) damage. This mix must be ensured by a cross-platform armament concept for airborne weapon systems in the FCAS. The twin-engine, twin-tail stealth design would be a twin-seat design.
France and the UK launched a new project under their Future Combat Air System (FCAS) effort that would see unmanned air vehicle prototypes developed under a newly announced £1.54 billion ($2.19 billion) agreement. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande met in Amiens, France on 03 March 2016, during which they committed funding to build on the program’s two-year £120 million ($170 million) feasibility study phase, that kicked off in November 2014. The study was expected to conclude in late 2016, and the development of full-scale prototypes is expected to start the following year.
BAE continued to strengthen the political relationship and close industry partnership with France, working closely with the UK MOD and French DGA to further define their Future Combat Air System (FCAS) requirements as part of the Feasibility Phase (FP) Study contract. Following on from this, as sign-posted by the Fr-UK Summit in March 2016, BAE was looking to transition to the next phase in 2017 which will prepare for the full-scale development of two Unmanned Combat Air System Model (UCAS) Operationally Representative Demonstrators by 2025. Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin MP further strengthened the UK’s partnership with France 15 December 2016 at the High Level Working Group in Paris, signing key agreements with her French counterpart, Laurent Collet-Billon, Délégué Général pour l’Armement. Harriett Baldwin and Laurent Collet-Billon signed an agreement to enable the next phase of the UCAS programme to begin.
This meant that the three UK and three French companies (BAES, Dassault Aviation, Rolls Royce, Safran, Leonardo and Thales) who had worked hard to deliver the feasibility phase of the ambitious UCAS programme over the last two years would be able to further develop the programme in preparation for the full €2B (c.£1.5Bn) demonstrator program. This phase would begin in late 2017.
The Demonstration Programme would develop two full-scale versatile and world-class UCAS operational demonstrators by 2025. These demonstrators will be used for operational test and evaluation work over the following 5-10 years and could serve as the basis for a future operational capability beyond 2030.
By March 2017 BAE stated that next generation manned military aircraft requirements had already been met by offshore prime contractors, pointing to the current procurement of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, for which BAES is a subcontractor to the US-based prime contractor, Lockheed Martin.
In July 2018 London gave BAE Systems a one-year contract for work on the FCAS, but offered no further details, including the value of the contract or the exact nature of the work. According to preliminary reports, a flight demonstrator of the continental European FCAS project announced in April should be ready by 2025, with 2040 set as the goal for the plane's entry into service. However, with concrete implementation dates not yet determined, and the project itself surrounded by uncertainty, as far as member countries are concerned, the project's fate remains uncertain.
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