FCAS or not, the Super coupleRafale Neuron proposed by Dassault should be developed

As is customary at the start of summer, arms fairs have multiplied in recent weeks, with Eurosatory in France dedicated to land arms in mid-June, the ILA aeronautical fair in Berlin a week later, and this week, the British Farnborough Airshow. What is less so is the extraordinary discretion of France, its authorities and its aeronautical industry during these shows, in particular regarding a program that is nevertheless major and sizeable, the Air Combat System of the Future, or FCAS. The fact is, since the beginning of the year, the program bringing together Germany, France and Spain is on hold, against a backdrop of disagreement between Dassault Aviation and Airbus D&S regarding industrial sharing around the design of the Next Generation Fighter or NGF, the main pillar of the program, and the only one which remains, to date, under French pilotage. For several weeks, Dassault Aviation, through its CEO Eric Trappier, but also the entire Team Rafale, suggested that in the event of failure of negotiations, French manufacturers had a “plan B”. More recently, it appeared that this alternative would be based on a new and very promising couple, combining un Rafale redesigned and designed Super-Rafale, and a stealth combat drone from the NEUROn program.

For the Team Rafale, this approach would constitute an alternative to the FCAS that is economically sustainable for France and effective from an operational point of view. The new combat aircraft would indeed make it possible to extend the operational capabilities but above all the evolutionary potential of the Rafale to meet the requirements of air combat in the years and decades to come, like what the success of the Rafale in theaters of operation and on the export scene. The stealth combat drone, for its part, would offer the new device widely extended surveillance, suppression and detection capabilities, including in a highly contested environment, especially since it will probably be able, like the Rafale and SuperRafale, rely on airborne drones of the Remote Carrier type to extend their capabilities. Fundamentally, therefore, such an approach could effectively replace the FCAS by 2040, given the vision we have today of what air warfare will be like on that date and beyond.

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The FCAS program is now on hold, pending political arbitration from Paris and Berlin

However, it is appropriate to question the relevance of developing such a program, even if the FCAS program were to continue, and an acceptable agreement were to be found between French and German industrialists. Indeed, there is now little doubt that the entry into service of the NGF from the FCAS in an operational and unrestricted version will probably not take place before 2050. However, despite its extraordinary capacity for evolution, the Rafale current will struggle to assert itself in the sky in a confident manner beyond a deadline that can be placed between 2035 and 2040. Indeed, the period which is coming will have nothing to do with the last 30 years in technological tempo term. Driven by Sino-Chinese competition, it is more than likely that a new technological arms race will last for several decades, in a technological tempo that will be much more like the 50s and 60s than the 90s and 2000s. Already today, China is officially developing 3 stealth fighter programs, the J-20 heavy fighter, the J-35 carrier-based medium fighter and the H-20 strategic bomber, to which should be added, although this is not officially recognized by Beijing, a fourth stealth JH-XX fighter-bomber program intended to replace the JH-7 by the end of the decade.

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