What are the limits of generational development of defense equipment?

During the Cold War, the arms race between the two NATO and Soviet blocs was such that the technological pace was very sustained. Thus, there was, most often, only ten to fifteen years between two pieces of equipment for the same function. It was also common for several similar pieces of equipment, but based on very different technological bases, to evolve jointly in the same army.

This phenomenon was particularly noticeable in certain areas, such as combat aircraft. Thus, when the first Mirage 2000C entered service within the French Air Force in 1984, it was still using Mirage IIIEs until 1988, as well as Mirage F-1Cs, all three dedicated to air superiority.

From the 80s, however, Western armies have favored the scalability of equipment to respond to changing needs and technologies. THE Rafale, a particularly scalable device, has experienced, since its entry into service in 2001, no less than six major iterative standards, each providing the device with new capabilities.

However, while, under the pressure of international tensions and growing risks of conflict, the defense technological tempo has grown again in recent years, this model based on a single piece of equipment that can be upgraded per generation, is it not reaching its limits today?

The generational development of defense equipment took hold in the West from the 80s.

The doctrine aiming to bet on the scalability and versatility of defense equipment, rather than on successive developments within the same generation, is not without its interests.

CV-41 USS Midway
CV-41 USS Midway and its Carrier Air Wing

It makes it possible, in fact, to considerably simplify the logistical and maintenance aspects within the armed forces, as well as the training issues of the personnel who use this equipment, or who maintain it in operational condition.

Thus, at the end of the 60s, American aircraft carriers frequently implemented 5 or 6 different models of combat aircraft (F-4, F-8, A-4/7, A-5, A-6), 8 to 10 counting logistic (C-2), air security (S-2/3) aircraft, and helicopters. For each of them, dedicated teams were required, but also their own maintenance equipment, and even specific weapons.

Today, a Nimitz-class super aircraft carrier uses only two families of combat aircraft, the Super-Hornet and the Growler, its electronic warfare version, on the one hand, and the Hornet or the F-35C, on the other. In addition to these two fighter models, there is the E-2D Hawkeye for advanced air surveillance, the Sea Hawk for Pedro missions, and sometimes one or two C-2 Greyhound logistics. In doing so, the efficiency of the aircraft carrier is increased, while the entire logistics chain is considerably simplified.

However, this approach was not made without certain renunciations, which the armies, as well as the industrialists, have begun to realize in recent years, and which often prove to be very handicapping, in particular while the technological pace of defense equipment tends to accelerate considerably.

Char Leclerc: Commercial attractiveness not adaptive to demand

The first risk, inherent to this model, is characterized by the example of the Leclerc tank. Designed in the late 80s, the French tank entered service in 1993. Although very successful from a technological and industrial point of view, it suffered from arriving in a market in free fall after the collapse of the Soviet bloc .

Leclerc United Arab Emirates
Leclerc tanks United Arab Emirates.

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Article in two parts. The second part will be published on May 7, 2024.

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