Wednesday, November 29, 2023

How will collaborative drones disrupt the combat aircraft market?

The new capabilities offered by collaborative combat drones will not only evolve strategies and doctrines, but also the combat aircraft market in the years to come.

Since its arrival on the international combat aircraft market around fifteen years ago, Lockheed-Martin's F-35 Lighting II has largely taken the lion's share in international competitions, with firm orders coming from no less than 14 air forces outside the United States.

And the momentum does not seem to be slowing down, with many other countries, including five European countries (Germany, Spain, Greece, Czech Republic and Romania) having announced their intention to equip themselves with it in the short or medium term.

In many cases, the American aircraft won after a competition pitting it against other American and European fighters, notably the French Rafale , the Swedish Gripen, the European Typhoon or even the Boeing Super Hornet . .

In each of them, the Lighting II was declared the winner, in particular because of its more recent design, but also its stealth, knowing also that the political and military weight of the United States came into play in many cases.

However, this hierarchy, although well established, could be called into question within a few years, and the arrival of new so-called collaborative combat drones , these drones which will be capable of evolving alongside and for the benefit of combat aircraft piloted, and which are actively developed throughout the world, with the American and Australian Skyborg and Loyal Wingman programs, or the European Remote Carriers.

Indeed, these new devices, which will act as appendages to combat aircraft, increasing their detection and action capabilities, will profoundly change the conduct of air war operations, and with them, the very role of combat aircraft in this future device.

However, in such a hypothesis, the key arguments which made the success of the F-35 over the last 15 years are likely to no longer prove decisive in the face of the characteristics that other, sometimes older, aircraft may put forward, such as the Rafale from Dassault Aviation.

IMG 3537 2 Combat drones | Germany | Defense Analysis
Despite its qualities, the French Rafale has never won against the American F-35A in past competitions. But the upcoming arrival of collaborative drones could well change the situation in this area.

Collaborative drones, whether Loyal Wingmen or Remote Carrier, represent a new generation of combat drones intended to be controlled by a combat aircraft, so as to extend its capabilities. Unlike current drones, such as MALE drones, these will not be piloted remotely, but simply controlled by the crew of the combat aircraft, with the piloting function being managed by artificial intelligence.

These new drones will be of varying sizes, shapes and capacities, depending on their missions, and will be able to carry sensors and effectors (missiles, bombs, jammers, etc.) in order to increase the combat capabilities as well as the tactical options of the drone. piloted device, especially since a single fighter will be able to control several of these drones simultaneously.

We understand, therefore, to what extent the arrival of these new systems will disrupt the conduct of air war operations, bringing it, this time in a very significant way, into a truly new generation, much more surely than has been the case. could have been the arrival of the famous 5th generation of combat aircraft .

This transformation will also radically change the role of the fighter aircraft in this new environment, with ultimately a redistribution of the cards in terms of their high added value capabilities, determining criteria both in combat and during handovers. markets.

Indeed, the fighter plane will see its primary role evolve from a vector function to a coordinator function. Today, a combat aircraft constitutes above all a centralized platform capable of hosting, transporting and implementing detection systems and as well as munitions, whether for air superiority or strike missions. or information.

LOGO meta defense 70 Combat drones | Germany | Defense Analysis

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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