2040, l'odyssée du SCAF - Le système de combat aérien du futur - version anglaise
EXTRAORDINAIRY SESSION OF 2019-2020
Filed at the President's Office of the Senate on 15 July 2020
on behalf of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee (1) on the Future Combat Air System (FCAS),
By Mr Ronan LE GLEUT and Ms Hélène CONWAY-MOURET,
(1) This committee is composed of: Christian Cambon, Chairman; Pascal Allizard, Bernard Cazeau, Olivier Cigolotti, Robert del Picchia, Jean-Noël Guérini, Joël Guerriau, Pierre Laurent, Cédric Perrin, Gilbert Roger, Jean-Marc Todeschini, Deputy Chairpersons; Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, Philippe Paul, Marie-Françoise Perol-Dumont, Olivier Cadic, Secretaries; Jean-Marie Bockel, Gilbert Bouchet, Michel Boutant, Alain Cazabonne, Pierre Charon, Hélène Conway-Mouret, Édouard Courtial, René Danesi, Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, Jean-Paul Émorine, Bernard Fournier, Sylvie Goy-Chavent, Jean-Pierre Grand, Claude Haut, Mme Gisèle Jourda, Jean-Louis Lagourgue, Robert Laufoaulu, Ronan Le Gleut, Jacques Le Nay, Rachel Mazuir, François Patriat, Gérard Poadja, Ladislas Poniatowski, Christine Prunaud, Isabelle Raimond-Pavero, Stéphane Ravier, Hugues Saury, Bruno Sido, Rachid Temal, Raymond Vall, André Vallini, Yannick Vaugrenard, Jean-Pierre Vial, and Richard Yung.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme is essential to the renewal of combat aviation in France, Germany and Spain by 2040 (the end-of-service date for the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon). It is also essential to preserving Europe's strategic autonomy and its defence technological and industrial base.
Building a next-gen air combat system with our German and Spanish partners will allow us to have the best technology and address all threats in the coming decades.
At the end of its work, the mission identified four main challenges for the FCAS programme: reach a new milestone in early 2021 to make the programme irreversible, rise to the challenges of 2040-2080 (the FCAS's probable lifespan), make industrial cooperation as efficient as possible while avoiding the pitfalls encountered by some of the previous cooperation programmes, and take into account the European aspect as well as the existence of a competing programme, the Tempest. For each of these challenges, the mission presents concrete proposals.
I Make the FCAS programme irreversible by mid-2021
The FCAS is essential and will structure the upcoming decades. The current financial commitment, with an initial contract of €65 million for the study of the joint concept and then a second contract of €155 million for phase 1A to develop the demonstrator, nevertheless remains too limited to prevent any turning back. The negotiations, which resulted in the Franco-German agreement on the first stage of the programme, were laborious. Vigilance is required to make sure the programme does not encounter a definitive blockage or too significant a delay. In this context, the next twelve months will be crucial to finding a new agreement, particularly on the issue of industrial property and on the "stealth" pillar and speeding up the programme's implementation.
Proposal 1: Prioritise signing an overall framework agreement at the start of 2021 to continue developing the FCAS demonstrator through 2025/2026 rather than a succession of contracts requiring repeated political approval.
Proposal 2: Improve reciprocal understanding between the three partners; identify and publish a "joint industrial defence strategy" that includes a provisional schedule of the joint projects.
Proposal 3: Encourage the three partners to accelerate the FCAS schedule so that it is part of the post-coronavirus economic stimulus plans. Plan for the programme to be completed by 2040.
Proposal 4: Invite our German partners to sign an agreement with Spain regarding arms exports similar to the one signed with France
II Develop the technology needed to make the FCAS truly revolutionary in 2040
The FCAS must replace the current air combat systems (Rafale and Eurofighter) by 2040 and remain in service until 2080 and, perhaps, beyond. The speed at which technology changes, in terms of not only combat aviation, but artificial intelligence, data exchanges, combat cloud, electronic war or hyper-speed missiles as well as the efforts made by our main adversaries and allies to develop ever-more effective systems, requires us to look beyond 2040. The goal is to avoid developing a combat system that will be obsolete as soon as it is commissioned. The ethical and legal aspect of artificial intelligence must also be taken into account within the programme's framework.
Proposal 5: Consider artificial intelligence as a "transversal pillar" of the FCAS that must be developed with the broadest possible scope of application. Resume international discussions on lethal autonomous weapons (LAW) to arrive at a clear legal framework that is consistent with ethics and the principles of international humanitarian law.
Proposal 6: Make the "combat cloud" pillar as much of a priority as the plane and the engine. Begin preparing the integration of the FCAS's combat cloud with the Scorpion Command Information System (CIS) immediately.
Proposal 7: Make the investments necessary to equip the demonstrator planned for 2026 with the M88 engine (the Rafale engine) or a new version of it.
Proposal 8: Include environmental concerns from the start of the FCAS programme while seeking the best performance possible.
III For balanced and effective industrial cooperation
The experience of certain international defence cooperation programmes such as the A400M has led to the implementation of a highly structured industrial organisation for the FCAS. This system is thus organised around seven pillars: the aircraft, the engine, remote carriers, combat cloud, simulation/coherence, and, soon, stealth and sensors. A prime contractor and a main partner have been appointed for each of these pillars. While France can count on its first-rate defence manufacturers, who have already demonstrated their know-how in the principal fields concerned by the programme, the position of sub-contractors must not be neglected to maintain an overall industrial balance. It is also necessary to resolve the issue of industrial property in accordance with the main principles already approved by the Franco-German agreement of December 2019.
Proposal 9: Support the "Best Athlete" principle (the one who has demonstrated competency is the prime contractor) throughout the duration of the FCAS programme to avoid the errors of the A400M programme, while ensuring that French small and medium defence companies participate in the programme.
Proposal 10: Strengthen Spain's position on the "sensors" pillar.
Proposal 11: Protect manufacturers' background in terms of intellectual property. Provide for balanced use of the foreground (the technologies that emerge during development): ensure that each of the participating countries can maintain or make changes to the FCAS after it is commissioned and ensure an adequate protection of innovations.
Proposal 12: Integrate ONERA into the FCAS programme at a fair level given its eminent expertise in combat aviation. Encourage manufacturers to rely on ONERA for sub-contracting.
IV Give the FCAS programme a European dimension
While the FCAS programme is currently a French, German and Spanish project, the opportunity of finding synergies with European instruments of defence as well as the goal of exportation must lead us to consider enlarging cooperation when the moment is right. Furthermore, it would be imprudent not to take the Tempest programme into account.
Proposal 13: Work to enlarge the FCAS programme to new European countries in future stages (post-2026). Synergies should then be developed with European instruments of defence (EDIDP, PESCO, EDF), in particular with a view to implementing European interoperability standards.
Proposal 14: Take into account the Tempest's simultaneous existence as a competitor to the FCAS; the coexistence of the two programmes makes it more difficult to build the European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB).
The FCAS is a highly ambitious programme that includes three aspects: a political project linked to Franco-German friendship, later joined by Spain, a response to a need for capabilities, and an initiative essential to preserving France's strategic autonomy and helping to create Europe's strategic autonomy. With its nature as a "system of systems", it seeks to provide an innovative response to the threats that the armed forces will face in 2040.
The first reason for launching the FCAS programme is to meet the French, German and Spanish air forces' need for capabilities in 2040.
The three countries share a relatively coincidental need to renew their combat aircraft equipment:
- for France, the need to find a successor to the Rafale, in service in the Navy since 1998/99 and in the Air Force since 2006, and which is planned to be retired around 2060. The FCAS will progressively relieve the Rafale F3R,1(*) qualified by the DGA in July 2018, then the upcoming Rafale F4, which will improve the aircraft's connectivity, electronic war capabilities and the radar's effectiveness, constituting a first step toward the FCAS. The FCAS must also be able to fulfil the mission of nuclear dissuasion.
- for Germany, the need to plan for a successor to the Eurofighter, in service in the Luftwaffe since 2004 and which is set to be retired roughly at the same time as the Rafale, after being improved in the meantime. The new system should allow Germany to continue to fulfil its nuclear missions for NATO (B61 gravity bombs carried by P200 Tornadoes).
- for Spain, replace the Eurofighter, which was ordered in 2010, 2014 and 2017. Note that the F/A-18A Hornet of the Spanish ALA 46, based in the Canary Islands and taken from US stocks in the 1980s, will expire in 2025. Later, it will be the same for the sixty aircraft of the same type acquired by the Spanish air force. The Spanish navy also uses around a dozen AV-8 Harrier IIs on the Juan Carlos I aircraft carrier. To meet its renewal needs, Spain could be tempted to acquire some F35Bs, the only aircraft on the market that can take off vertically from the aircraft carrier. However, until now, this solution has not been adopted because of Spain's "European preference" on the one hand and the very high cost of the F35Bs on the other. Even if the F35B were chosen, it would no doubt not be a choice that definitively turns Spain in favour of the American aircraft manufacturer.
The new air weapons system that will succeed the Rafale and the Eurofighter must be a system with multiple roles2(*) suited to the context of 2040 and the following decades until it is retired, likely around 2080. The general opinion is that this context will be characterised by a greater dispute of airspace by our adversaries through "Anti-Access/Area Denial" (A2/AD) strategies implemented using highly effective detection systems (broadband radar) and anti-missile systems (such as the Russian S400 and its successors). This will result in a risk of it being impossible to penetrate enemy areas even though controlling the third dimension remains essential to any military action, including on the ground.
Additionally, the new combat aircraft must be able to carry both French nuclear weapons and the NATO nuclear weapons used by Germany, which will have an impact on its characteristics that remains to be determined.
The size and weight of the new combat aircraft will have consequences for the size of any future French aircraft carrier and for the size of the missiles that may be used and developed in the future.
Currently, the Rafale Marine has a wingspan of 10.90 metres, a length of 15.27 metres, empty weight of 10 tonnes and a maximum weight of 24 tonnes with the weapons. The NGF will be heavier for at least three reasons: it must be able to carry more effectors, have a greater flight range, and its stealth will no doubt require a hold of a certain size for the missiles.
As a comparison, the American F22 stealth fighter has a wingspan of 13.56 metres, is 18.9-metres long, weighs 20 tonnes when empty and up to 35 tonnes with all its cargo. The NGF model presented at Le Bourget was 18-metres long. Admiral Christophe Prazuck, Chief of Staff of the French Navy, also spoke of a weight of around 30 tonnes for the NGF and dimensions greater than the Rafale at a Senate hearing on 23 October 2019, implying a much bigger and heavier aircraft carrier than the Charles de Gaulle. Thus, the order of magnitude being considered would be 70,000 tonnes for an aircraft carrier 280- to 300-metres long, compared with 42,000 tonnes and 261 metres for the current aircraft carrier.
If the aircraft's development is not launched now, France and Germany will no doubt have to adopt a non-sovereign solution in 2040. It will probably be the F35, which should remain in activity until around 2080, or one of its American successors.
France would then renounce its strategic autonomy. It would also renounce part of its defence technological and industrial base. Remember that France is one of the three countries, alongside the United States and Russia, that can manufacture an entire combat aircraft.
It would be the same for Germany. Despite its traditionally more favourable attitude towards the United States in the matter, Germany decided in April 2020 to buy 93 Eurofighter (BAE systems, Airbus and Leonardo) and 45 American F-18 (Boeing) combat aircraft to renew its fleet of Tornadoes capable of carrying the American nuclear bomb and not F35s as the Americans were encouraging, arguing that only an American aircraft could carry this bomb (although the Tornado, the current carrier within the German forces, is indeed a European aircraft).
Furthermore, the abandonment of strategic autonomy that would result from the lack or the delayed launch of a new air combat system would no doubt be permanent. It would be very difficult for European manufacturers, particularly aircraft and engine manufacturers, to skip a generation of aircraft. The cutting-edge skills needed in this field can only be maintained by effectively participating in industrial programmes. In particular, for the two main French manufacturers participating in the NGF project,3(*) Dassault and Safran, the last military programme dates back to the Rafale in the 1980s. The aircraft manufacturer has not developed a new combat aircraft since this period, just as the engine-maker has not made a complete engine (hot and cold parts) since the M88 on the Rafale. Therefore, it is urgent that these two manufacturers work on a new major-scale project that mobilises all the skills needed to make a complete aircraft.
Representatives from Safran and the CEO of Dassault, who gave testimony to the rapporteurs, considered the FCAS, as a new programme for an air combat system, to be an "existential project". It's this existential character for Europe's strategic autonomy that ultimately fully justifies not meeting the need by an aircraft purchased "off-the-shelf". Conversely, the A400M may not have had the same "existential" character for Airbus (as the Court of Auditors underscored in its 2010 report on the steering of arms programmes).4(*)
Also, it should be noted that, in terms of combat aircraft, the international "trend" is towards sovereign programmes. Many regional powers have decided to develop their own combat aircraft, particularly in Asia, to support their sovereignty and develop a local manufacturing network. This is the case in China with the Chengdu J-20, a stealth twin-engine, in South Korea, which is developing a combat aircraft in cooperation with Indonesia, the KF-X, India, which is developing the HAL AMCA via national manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics, Japan, which is also developing a stealth aircraft (since they were unable to acquire the F22s that the Americans refused to export), Turkey and Iran. FCAS member countries' attachment to their strategic autonomy is thus widely shared.
* 1 This new standard will allow the Rafale to carry the METEOR long-range air-to-air missile along with the RBE2 AESA radar with an active antenna that allows flying targets to be engaged at around a hundred kilometres. It will also be able to implement the TALIOS targeting pod. This new version of the Rafale is also equipped with a mode 5/mode S-compatible IFF interrogator and an AGCAS (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). The link 16, the RBE2 AESA radar and the SPECTRA electronic war system have been improved. In addition to the METEOR missile, it will be able to carry GBU-16 laser-guided bombs and Block 3 air-to-ground modular weapons.
* 2 Currently, the Rafale is a multi-role aircraft by design (even omni-role, as presented by Dassault Aviation), while the Eurofighter is an air superiority aircraft that was only recently adapted to air-ground missions.
* 3 The Next Generation Fighter which comprises one of the elements, along with the remote carriers (drones) and the tactical cloud, of the NGWS (New Generation Weapon System), itself at the heart of the FCAS: see page and following.
* 4 https://www.ccomptes.fr/sites/default/files/EzPublish/1_conduite-des-programmes-armement.pdf