6th Generation Fighter GCAP program specializes in air superiority

The new GCAP program bringing together Great Britain, Italy and Japan, seems to specialize in air superiority for a device intended to evolve alongside the F-35A/B.

Announced at the 2018 Farnbourouh air show, the Futur Combat Air System program and the British 6th generation Tempest fighter was then perceived by many experts as a proud response to the announcement of the upcoming launch of the Franco-German FCAS program in fall 2017.

And even if European partners, such as the Italian Leonardo or the missile MBDA, participated in the British program, many questions remained about fiscal sustainability of such a program by London.

Nonetheless, thehe political determination of the British did not waver, and the first significant investments for the development of the program were not long in being indicated with, in passing, an economic model piloted by PWc based not on public expenditure, but on the budgetary and social balance of the investment made.

In fact, where FCAS struggled to overcome Franco-German differences and saw its deadlines slip by more than one year per year, the FCAS continued its work, to the point of attracting new state partners. First of all Italy in January 2021, then a year later, Japan by merging the European Tempest program and Japanese FX.

In fact, today, not only is the FCAS program, since renamed Global Combat Air Program or GCAP program, secure, but it even offers much more robust structural parameters than does the FCAS program, marked by a year standoff between Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defense & Space for piloting the 1ᵉʳ pillar of the program aimed at designing the Next Generation Fighter, the combat aircraft at the heart of the system of systems.

Indeed, on the one hand, the complementarity of know-how within GCAP facilitates industrial sharing within the program, especially since Great Britain, because of its experience, remains the undisputed pilot and in particular the designer of the Tempest fighter plane.

In addition, the ambitions put forward by the 3 partners of the GCAP program in terms of defense investment are all higher than those put forward by their mirrors of the FCAS program, with Japan specifically, which is aiming for an army budget of more than 100 billion. $ where Germany is only targeting $85 billion. Finally, the three countries share a similar architecture for the future of their air forces.

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Perceived as more robust than the British program at its launch, the FCAS is today much less sure of its relative strengths

Thus, London, like Tokyo and Rome, are already major users of the F-35 Lightning II, in particular of the B version with vertical or short take-off and landing to arm the British Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Walles aircraft carriers, the aircraft carriers Japanese Izumo and Kaga light aircraft and the Italian Cavour and Trieste aircraft carriers.

In addition, it is probable that, like the Japanese air self-defense forces and the Italian air forces, the Royal Air Force will acquire F-35As in the future in addition to the F-35Bs of its naval aviation, so as to densify its striking capacities and suppression of opposing defences.

The situation is much less clear within the FCAS program, where France actually wants a fully versatile aircraft to replace its Rafale, while Germany, and very probably Spain, will at least implement a specialized fleet of F-35s, the first to ensure NATO's nuclear mission, the second to arm its aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I , with a significant risk that additional orders will come in particular to compensate for schedule slippage for the FCAS program.

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