Paris and Berlin signed an agreement on February 20 to develop a prototype of a sixth generation European fighter. The deal amounted to € 150 million. We are talking about the project of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) aircraft, which are being developed by Airbus, Dassault, the Thales SA industrial group, as well as several other European technology enterprises.

It is assumed that the aircraft will be in operation since 2040 and will replace the fourth-generation European combat aircraft Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter.

“This is a very ambitious project in France and Germany, which Spain has also joined,” French Defense Minister Florence Parley told reporters after the signing ceremony.

  • French Defense Minister Parley Florence
  • AFP
  • © Christophe ARCHAMBAULT

According to the French minister, this step will allow the countries participating in the project “to confront threats and challenges in the second half of the 21st century”, as well as illustrate the “will and desire for European defense”.

A few days earlier, the German Bundestag approved the financing of the project, at the current stage the contribution of Berlin is € 77.5 million.

The total investment only in the creation of the prototype will be about € 4 billion. The first designed sample should be ready by 2026.

According to experts, these terms cannot be called overstated. As Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, explained in an interview with RT, even developing a prototype is only a small step towards creating a full-fledged machine.

“Now Europeans are just getting ready to make a prototype, which is a flightless model in which some of the parts are missing or conditionally made of plastic. The technological base for creating FCAS is only being laid, it will have to be developed from scratch, ”the expert explained in an interview with RT.

At the same time, Murakhovsky reminded that this is not the first attempt to create joint European weapons systems, in addition, many of the previous ones ended unsuccessfully.

A similar point of view is shared by military expert Yuri Knutov. In a RT commentary, he explained that it’s not enough to build the fighter to build the FCAS, it is also necessary to develop and build a whole range of defense systems, including drones, compatible long-range radar detection aircraft, and much more.

“In the case of sixth generation fighters, we are talking about the maximum robotization of systems with minimal participation of people, about the creation of a neural network. The latest materials, the invisibility of a whole new level, the latest weapons and much more should also be used. This is a very long and expensive work, ”the expert emphasized.

Prototype stage

The contract signed by France and Germany covers the initial research necessary to create a prototype of the future fighter. Madrid will join the works during 2020. The initial investment of this country will be about € 50 million. The Indra Sistemas concern will represent the Spanish side.

The first phase of work on the creation of the prototype FCAS is designed for 18 months, during which it is planned to complete the initial design of the aircraft. This period will cover the development of basic aerodynamic elements, the integration of weapons systems, as well as the creation of a configuration of a demonstration model and its system equipment, including the engine and sensors.

  • Dassault Aviation booth at the Paris International Air Show
  • AFP

Plans to create a new generation of European fighter aircraft were announced back in the summer of 2017 by French leader Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Already in November 2017, Airbus defense division - Airbus Defense and Space - presented to the public its own concept of the future fighter called New Fighter. According to the authors, the machine should become a link in the FCAS system, which will be a bow of a combat fighter and a swarm of UAVs.

As the then representative of the company Antoine Nogue said, the Future Combat Air System is planning a family of systems that include both manned and unmanned platforms that work in coordination with each other.

In addition, the company said that the aircraft will have high stealth, a large radius of flight, as well as modern communication systems.

In May 2018, the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation published a video in which it presented the appearance of the future fighter being developed.

Experts noted then the similarity of the streamlined shape of the aircraft with the outlines of the projected American sixth-generation fighter F / A-XX. There are some similarities with the previous Dassault Aviation fighter - Dassault Rafale.

In the summer of 2019, at the Paris Air Show (Paris Air Show), the developers presented a full-size model of the future European fighter, the project received another name - Next-Generation Fighter. The presentation was attended by President of the Fifth Republic Emmanuel Macron and the head of the French Ministry of Defense Florence Parley, as well as her German and Spanish colleagues Ursula von der Leyen and Margarita Robles.

Cross competition

It is worth noting that FCAS is not the only European project of the latest fighter. At the Farnborough Airshow in 2018, the United Kingdom presented its own project of the sixth generation Tempest fighter (“The Storm”) in honor of the British Hawker Tempest fighter during the Second World War.

As the then Secretary of Defense of the United Kingdom (at that time Gavin Williamson held this post), in the future the aircraft under development will be in service with the British Army along with the American F-35 Lightning II and European Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. It is assumed that a new combat aircraft can be adopted by the mid-2030s.

  • Eurofighter Typhoon Fighter
  • AFP

As Williamson emphasized then, one of the goals of the project is to maintain and develop British scientific and technological competence in the field of military aircraft manufacturing. Italy joined the English project. On her part, Leonardo concern takes part in the development, on the British side - BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and MBDA UK.

Such an initiative in London did not attract approval from Paris, which expressed the hope that both projects would be combined in the future.

“The intra-European rivalry, which makes us weaker than the US and China, is an absurd occupation,” said Emmanuel Macron.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron
  • AFP
  • © kenzo tribouillard

However, experts doubt that the two European projects of the latest fighters to unite.

“Europeans divided into two camps on this issue. It should be noted that the British project is still more fantastic, it is unlikely to be implemented, because London does not have its own satellite constellation. Paris, Berlin and Madrid have more chances, although their idea of ​​“skipping” the fifth generation and immediately creating a sixth generation fighter is similar to an advertising campaign, ”says Yuri Knutov.

According to the expert, both projects - both British and Franco-German - are also politically motivated. The emergence of the British plan to create a Tempest fighter is associated with Brexit - London no longer wants to rely on the support of Paris and Berlin, claiming primacy in Europe, Knutov said.

In addition, through ambitious defense projects, European authorities want to show their technological independence from the United States.

“The Americans look at these efforts of their European partners calmly and still twist their hands, forcing them to buy F-35 fighters. If the FCAS and Tempest projects really begin to show success, Washington will no doubt try to prevent the entry of the latest generation of European aircraft onto the market, ”said Yuri Knutov.

However, the expert doubts that the European FCAS and Tempest will ever be able to compete with the American and Russian fighter models.

“Russia has GLONASS, the USA has GPS, Europeans do not have their own global space system, and without it it is difficult to implement such a project. You also need to have your own aircraft with AWACS systems (radio detection and guidance systems. - RT ), Europeans also have difficulties with them. In such circumstances, it will be difficult to create a truly effective sixth generation aviation complex, ”Knutov explained.

A similar point of view is shared by Viktor Murakhovsky. According to the expert, Washington is closely monitoring ambitious European defense projects, counting on their failure.

“True, while both projects are nothing more than lines in the documents, by and large. It’s too early to say that they will compete with any American or Russian aircraft. I personally do not believe that these undertakings will succeed, ”concluded Murakhovsky.