The Next-Generation Weapon System: the Cornerstone of Future European Air Power
(Source: Le Figaro; published Jan. 31, 2020)
PARIS --- The Chiefs of Staff of the French (General Philippe Lavigne), German (General Ingo Gerhartz) and Spanish (General Javier Salto) Air Forces have jointly signed an open letter stressing the importance of the Next-Generation Weapon System, the major component of their Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

It was published on January 31, the last day of the month in which the French, German and Spanish Ministers of Defense promised to jointly award two technology demonstrator contracts for the New-Generation Fighter and its new engine.

As neither contract has yet been announced, this article can be seen as a public appeal by their three air force chiefs to prod their governments to move forward and award the contracts to avoid wasting any more time.

This is our unofficial translation of their statement:

The Next-Generation Weapon System is the Cornerstone of Future European Air Power

The French (General Philippe Lavigne), German (General Ingo Gerhartz) and Spanish (General Javier Salto) Air Force Chiefs of Staff welcome the cooperation between their three countries to develop the air defense instruments of tomorrow.

During the Cold War, several military programs germinated on the other side of the iron curtain to test the capability of Western countries to defend their airspace, their territory or more generally their sovereignty. In response, France, Spain and Germany in turn modernized their combat aviation, giving birth to the Eurofighter and Rafale programs, which was intended to enter service in the early 2000s.

Nowadays, the military and political orientations of certain States which weigh on the international scene are again testing the security of European countries. Whether in the air or in space, effective capabilities for denial of access to the third dimension are spreading. In the event of a conflict, they would significantly reduce the freedom of action of our armed forces, as well as their ability to deter the enemy from acting.

The operational environment beyond 2040 will include powers and failed states

If we refer to the prospective trends and technological developments as we can imagine them today, the operational environment beyond 2040 will certainly include powerful nations and failed states, as well as those in flux; hybrid strategies used against gross military superiority, all in contested common spaces or in complex urban areas. In this operational environment, the distinction between friends and enemies will be blurred, while technological and digital evolution will require rapid processing as well as a good distribution of information, instead of simply collecting data.

Faced with advanced weapons and hybrid strategies, the mission of our air forces must essentially, for each of us, to contribute to the protection of our national sovereignty, of integrity of our territory, and ensuring the security of our fellow citizens, just as we must support our European and NATO allies.

In this context, we, the chiefs of staff of the French (General Philippe Lavigne), German (General Ingo Gerhartz) and Spanish (General Javier Salto) air forces have enthusiastically welcomed the letter of intent activating the joint development of the Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS), signed by our three governments in June 2019 at the Paris Air Show. This NGWS is the cornerstone of future National Combat Air Systems (SCAF), all of which will be interoperable.

The French, German and Spanish defense ministries have already agreed on a document expressing the High Level Common Operational Requirement Document (HL CORD) for this NGWS / SCAF, which will consist of a New Generation Fighter (NGF) associated with remote piloted platforms dedicated to specific missions.

We want this system to have air capabilities allowing it to acquire operational superiority in future multi-domain operations, in order to guarantee freedom of action for all forces, whether on land, sea or air.

We will keep people at the heart of the decision-making process.

The NGWS will therefore have to be able to carry out a wide range of missions in constrained and contested environments, and be more efficient than equivalent enemy systems.

Should it be faster, more agile, or stealthier than today's best-performing weapon systems? Will it be the platform for the development of totally new sensors, or a connectivity allowing collaborative combat? Will it have to fly higher and faster than its potential opponents, or will it be so low that they cannot detect it? Will it exploit the entire electromagnetic and optical spectrum to react more quickly to the threat?

The studies in progress must still answer these questions. But our air forces need to acquire an NGWS that can carry out missions in all areas of air warfare. We also need it to be able to operate from air bases in our territories, such as from planned air bases or from an aircraft carrier. This weapon system will have to improve collaborative combat, by dialoguing with current aircraft or their later versions, in order to integrate their own combat capabilities within this "system of systems". As such, managing information and making it available to humans, at the most appropriate time for them to act, will also be a major challenge.

At this point, it is recognized that the next generation of air combat capabilities will be optimized through piloted platforms, working in conjunction with a panel of automated systems and effectors, within the systems system architecture.

This NGWS will therefore not only be a new generation combat aircraft, successor to the Eurofighter or the Rafale, but a system interacting with these current aircraft, as well as with most of the armament programs in the air and land domains, maritime but also cyber and space, which will form its complete operational environment. At the same time, incorporating artificial intelligence into the design of the command system will speed up the decision-making and engagement loop. It will also make it possible to distribute information in a relevant way within the network, while keeping people at the heart of the decision-making process.

We are firmly committed to the success of this project within twenty years.

A new step was taken on January 31, 2019, shortly after the signing of the Aachen Treaty by President Macron and Chancellor Merkel, thanks to the award of a contract for a Franco-German concept study, which our Spanish partners have now joined.

In October 2019, an integrated project team, made up of operational experts from the three countries, was set up in the Paris region to supervise the concept, research and development work, with a view to precisely defining the outline of the NGWS and its demonstrators to come.

Other tangible steps are on the point of being crossed with the first research and technology contract which is about to be signed, in order to allow the birth of a demonstrator of the next generation combat aircraft as of 2026, and thus be at the time of a first operational capability for the system of systems in 2040.

As chiefs of staff, we are firmly committed to the success of this project within twenty years. We have decided to meet several times a year to ensure that this program meets the common operational needs of our air forces, for which we are responsible.

We have therefore decided to make our operational visions of these needs converge as much as possible, starting with the connectivity and interoperability aspects, which are structuring elements of the NGWS and FCAS. In this context, we plan to sign a document specifying this common vision at the next ILA show in Berlin in May 2020.

The NGWS and FCAS programs are also powerful levers for cooperation between our national industries and our air forces. This cooperation is essential for the development of competitive European air capabilities capable of guaranteeing the security and sovereignty of the countries of Europe. All this while we must intensify our multinational collaboration efforts, in order to encourage the development of a common strategic vision, contributing directly to the defense of Europe.

We firmly believe that this sovereign European cooperation will not only help to improve the defense capabilities of each country, but also that of the European Union and NATO. For us, this is the best way to follow to preserve European independence in advanced technologies. It is also the best way to provide our air forces, and our countries, with a system capable of dealing with, and surpassing them, future air threats.


This statement was originally published on Jan. 31, 2020 by Le Figaro. Click here for the original version (in French) on Le Figaro website.

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