A pillar of the success of French military exports for more than 60 years after the war, the single-engine Mirage family ended with the Mirage 2000 fighter at the beginning of the 2010s. However, observation of the needs of the armies and the expectations of the market international, shows that there are several arguments to lead France, and Dassault Aviation, to create a new member of this glorious family, beyond the Rafale and the FCAS.
Whether or not it comes to an end, the FCAS new generation combat aircraft program bringing together Germany, Spain and France will not see the light of day before the end of the 2040s, and even probably at the beginning of the 2050s, according to Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation. It must be said that for the French aircraft manufacturer, but also for its German counterpart Airbus DS, this new date is far from lacking in meaning.
It is in fact in 2050 that the replacement of a majority of the Rafale and Typhoon , but also of the F-35A sold recently, will begin to be considered. However, the FCAS's Next Generation Fighter will evolve in a range adapted to replacing these aircraft, initially the French Rafale and the German and Spanish Typhoon during the first decade, then the aircraft exported beyond.
Obviously, for Dassault as for Airbus DS, it is hardly interesting to arrive on the market too early, at the risk of repeating the phenomenon which gave preference to the F-35A in numerous competitions, with the argument that Rafale and Typhoon were aircraft designed in the 1980s, where the F-35 was designed 20 years later.
However, if such a schedule probably satisfies the aircraft manufacturers and their shareholders, especially since they will have sufficient industrial activity until 2040 by producing the last aircraft ordered, and by ensuring the modernization of the fleet, this is much more problematic for the air forces, in particular for the Air and Space Force.
Indeed, whatever Dassault Aviation says, the Rafale , even in its future iterative versions, will not be able to maintain a marked technological ascendancy on the aircraft which will enter service by the end of this decade, except to develop a new scalable branch of the device, without even mentioning the export opportunities which will probably be significantly lower between 2030 and 2050.
In this context, it could be relevant, for the French air forces, but also for the entire national aeronautical industry, to develop an aircraft complementary to the Rafale , but also to the NGF/FCAS, positioned in a segment of excellence traditional of the French aeronautical defense industry, a high-performance single-engine fighter heir to the famous Mirage family. In this article, we will study this hypothesis through four complementary arguments in favor of such an approach.
1- The arrival of a new generation of combat aircraft from 2030
To date, there are no fewer than 6 programs in the world aimed at developing, for 2030, new generation combat aircraft offering performances at least as high as those that can be expected from future versions of the Rafale . In the United States, this is the US Air Force's NGAD program which concerns the development of an air superiority fighter intended to replace the F-22 Raptor, an aircraft still considered today as the best fighter plane of the moment.
Equipped with very advanced technologies and an equally high price, it is likely that like the F-22, the NGAD is not intended to be offered on the international scene, except possibly to certain very privileged allies such as Israel or Japan . It will therefore probably not represent a competitor for the Rafale , neither from a commercial nor operational point of view, the chances of an NGAD finding itself facing a Rafale being very limited.
This will probably not be the case for the US Navy's F/A-XX, the program intended to replace the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet , and which will probably be offered for export as was the Super Hornet and the Hornet before it. Finally, the F-35, and its developments which can be motorized between now and then, will continue to establish themselves in many markets.
The most important competitors, whether commercial or operational, of the Rafale and its developments beyond 2030 will however probably not be manufactured across the Atlantic. These include aircraft such as the South Korean KF-21 Boramae, a medium fighter with 5th generation attributes, which will enter service by the end of the decade, as well as the Russian Su-57e, the export version of the designated successor of the Flanker family.
Other programs are at different levels of development, such as the Turkish T-FX, provided that it manages to resolve certain critical technological aspects, or the Russian Su-75 Checkmate, assuming that the program is actually continued while the The Russian defense industry, like the entire country, is sinking into serious difficulties. China, for its part, is developing the J-35, a 5th generation twin-engine onboard fighter that is lighter and less expensive than the J-20, and which could serve as the basis for replacing the J-10 within the air forces of the 'APL, and in fact be offered for export in the relatively near future.
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