France and Germany have announced their intention to work together to develop a new advanced "European" fighter jet. Though the final plan is still in the works, the decision appears to be wrapped up in a number of political and economic considerations and could potentially see the end the German military’s interest in the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The deal emerged in a larger document the two countries published following a joint cabinet meeting on July 13, 2017. In addition to the new fighter jet, the white paper outlined Franco-German cooperation on an upgraded Tiger attack helicopter, air-to-ground missiles, drones, heavy tanks, and artillery, according to Reuters. (See our translation of the French-German final communiqué in our Word For Word section—Ed.)
The complete Franco-German fighter jet plan reportedly calls for a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft to ultimately replace France’s Dassault Rafales and Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoons. The two countries will come up with a shared “roadmap” by the middle of 2018, but there is not a clear time frame for when the new aircraft could or should enter production or be ready for combat.
Both countries have an interest in developing successors to these aircraft. Though they are among the most advanced fighter jets in active service anywhere in the world, the basic Rafale and Typhoon designs date back to the 1980s. Development of fighters since then has increasingly focused on adding low-observable features, such as stealthy overall shapes, to defeat steadily improving, networked air defenses.
The Franco-German plan actually sounds very similar to Airbus Defence and Space’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) concept. The European aviation consortium, headquarters in Germany, first revealed this proposal in July 2016. FCAS itself was a response to a joint German-Spanish requirement, dubbed the Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS), which those two countries unveiled six months earlier. That proposal envisioned the new aircraft entering service sometime in the 2030 to 2040 time frame.
Though Airbus included concept art of a stealthy-looking fifth generation fighter jet in its FCAS presentations, the core revolved around data sharing and manned-unmanned teaming. This is very similar to how the U.S. military increasingly sees itself operating the F-35. The fighter component of the system would act as the controller for unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) carrying additional weapons and sensors.
All of these aircraft would be able to share information back and forth, as well as draw additional information from other networked platforms, such as dedicated spy planes or unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. All of this would give pilots better situational awareness and more options to reach their targets, while reducing exposure to enemy air defenses. Depending on the size and number of the armed drones involved, the "swarm" of aircraft might even be able to overwhelm the defenders. (end of excerpt)
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