The F35 prepares to take on the FCAS and the Tempest

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On the occasion of the Paris Air Show, Micheal Evans, director of the F35 program at Lockheed-Martin, revealed the future of the program, and in particular how he intends to pull the rug out from under the European FCAS and Tempest programs in terms of " 6th generation”. In particular, he gave some details on the future “block 4” standard, which will have to come into service from the middle of the next decade.

Thus, this standard largely takes into consideration the criticisms made of the device, especially in terms of endurance, with the addition of compliant tanks to extend the autonomy by 40%, or a terrain monitoring system to allow the device to operate at low altitude and high speed in safety whatever the weather. We cannot help but notice that with these modifications, the F35 is trying to get closer to the mission profiles of the Rafale, whereas, precisely, its stealth was supposed to allow it to enter hostile territory at high altitude, so as to save fuel, and minimize the risks in terms of ground-air systems.

But above all, the F35 program will, according to Michael Evans, evolve towards an open architecture, allowing simplified interfacing with exogenous systems, and therefore become a “system of systems”, the very definition of the “6th generation” . In addition, as we had already mentioned, the US Air Force has launched a very dynamic program aimed at extending the capabilities of combat aircraft through deported effectors, in this case the Valkyrie program. According to Lockheed, the F35 is already designed to allow simplified evolution so as to integrate and control these “consumable” devices in the combat system.

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The XQ58 Valkyrie drone from the manufacturer Kratos corresponds to the definition of Remote Carriers
of the FCAS program

Of course, these are just statements, and for now, the F35 remains a device with questionable performance in exorbitant usage price, and which reliability is questioned. But the areas of development detailed by Lockheed show real consideration of the operational realities that the aircraft must face. Above all, its commercial discourse, like its technological planning, seems designed to neutralize the technological good ambitions of European programs which, once again, whose planning seems less and less relevant.

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Artist's impression of the US Navy's next generation fighter program planned for 2030+

We should also not ignore that the US Air Force and the US Navy each have a program for the design of a new generation heavy fighter by 2040, to replace respectively the F15 and the F22 of the Air Force, and the Navy's Super Hornets. These programs will be able to rely on the technological building blocks from the F35 program, and therefore concentrate investments towards more disruptive technologies such as very high speed or exorbitant-atmospheric flight. In fact, the three American programs could, in 3, put European programs in a technological position, condemning, this time definitively, the European aeronautical industry.

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