Friday, February 23, 2024

Super- Rafale , Mirage NG: France must study a medium-term alternative to FCAS

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To say that the SCAF new generation combat aircraft program, which brings together France, Germany and Spain, is currently on a downhill path would be an understatement. After several episodes of tension over industrial sharing between Paris, Berlin and Madrid, the program is now at a standstill in the face of the impossible agreement that Germany and Airbus Defense & Space are trying to get Paris and Dassault Aviation to accept, and which would force the French aeronautical group to share management of the first pillar concerning the design of the Next Generation Fighter, or NGF, with its German counterpart. For several weeks now, the situation has been completely frozen , with Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, constantly making numerous statements to the media to let it be known that his group would not make any additional concessions to Airbus DS. The deadly trajectory followed by the program seems to have even reached Berlin, since according to a report from the German Ministry of Defense , the German authorities would be ready to abandon the SCAF program, given the deep differences to which it is the subject.

We will note, in this respect, the extreme discretion of the French authorities around this subject. If it is true that the executive probably has many subjects to deal with today, it remains true that the FCAS program, like its heavy armored counterpart the MGCS, are above all emanations of a political will shared between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the first in order to give substance to his European Defense ambition, the second as a way out of the difficulties anticipated for Germany following the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House in 2016. Since then, the context has changed profoundly, since Joe Biden replaced Trump and relaunched trans-Atlantic cooperation and the central role of the United States within NATO. As for Emmanuel Macron's repeated overtures in favor of a Europe of La Défense, they all remained dead letters among his European neighbors. Only the FCAS and MGCS programs remain to support this ambition, even though they are now confronted with certain industrial, operational and doctrinal realities, certainly perfectly identified for a long time, but which today are no longer compensated by the will strong policy of the Macron-Merkel couple.

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Model of FCAS Germany | Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft
The presentation of the NGF model of the FCAS program at the 2019 Paris Air Show

In any case, with the more than gloomy future that is emerging for the FCAS, it is difficult to see how a politically weakened Emmanuel Macron and an Olaf Scholz more Atlanticist than ever could invest in saving it, which will not work. not without posing significant challenges for the French defense industry, but also and above all for the country's air and naval forces, while a new technological arms race has begun. Certainly, for Dassault Aviation, the Rafale has the development potential to hold the line for several decades. However, and without doubting the fact that such a hypothesis would perfectly suit the manufacturer and its shareholders while the order book for the Rafale is full for 10 years, confine itself to iteratively evolving the device in the years to come. future could lead to ossification of the know-how and competitive performance of this entire sector, critical for the economy and as well as for National Defense. In this context, 3 hypotheses can be studied in order to respond to these industrial, technological and security challenges: the design of a Super- Rafale , that of a Mirage NG, as well as a reboot of the FCAS with other partners, European or not.

The Super- Rafale : a transitional fighter

The Rafale is a formidable combat aircraft, and its export success is a perfect demonstration of this, particularly in the face of aggressive and attractive offers from US industries with its F-35, F-16V and F-15EX. . Beyond its advanced performances, and unique versatility on the market, the Rafale shines above all by its ability to evolve, to the point that the first Rafale F1 delivered to the French Navy in the early 2000s were brought to standard F-3R omnirole, equipped with the EASA RBE2 radar and the long-range Air-Air missile Meteor, and that they will even be brought, in the future, to the F4 standard and its capabilities encroaching on the 5th generation. However, the current design of the Rafale is starting to reach its limits, this having led Dassault to design the F4 evolution in two standards, one for previous batch aircraft, the other for new aircraft, so as to have new capabilities for development in the future. This principle could be extended as was the case for the Gripen E/F with respect to the Gripen C/D, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet with respect to the Hornet , or the Super- Etendard vis-à-vis the Etendard, namely to design, in the relatively short term, a new Rafale adapted to future needs, in particular those towards which the current Rafale will not be able to evolve.

dassault rafale 2 0 Germany | Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft
The extraordinary scalability of the Rafale allowed the French Navy to upgrade its Rafale M from the F1 standard to the F3R standard

LOGO meta defense 70 Germany | Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolfhttps://meta-defense.fr/fabrice-wolf/
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the Meta-defense.fr site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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