A manned option for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) that is being studied by an Anglo-French industrial team has not been ruled out, according to British officials attending a formal launch of the $180 million two-year feasibility study in Paris on November 5. Bernard Gray, the UK MoD Chief of Defence Materiel, and Ian King, CEO of BAE Systems, each indicated that a piloted vehicle is still an option.
All previous indications and illustrations of the FCAS project have pointed to an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), building on the experience gained by France on the pan-European Neuron demonstrator, and by the UK on the all-British Taranis demonstrator. Both these projects have yet to complete flying trials.
Although the two countries signed an "agreement" on FCAS at the Farnborough Airshow in July this year, the latest event at the headquarters of Dassault Aviation at St. Cloud was billed as the “industrial launch” of the project. Formal contracts have now been signed. BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation are the main contractors, leading a team that also comprises Rolls-Royce, Snecma, Selex ES and Thales.
The FCAS might replace the current-generation Rafale and Typhoon combat jets in 2030-2035. During the next two years, the industrial partners will work to define what key technologies FCAS would need, and concepts of operation. According to a representative of DGA, the French defense procurement agency, the FCAS will have to be “very stealthy, and able to make deep penetration strikes in a very hostile environment.” It will include new-generation sensors, internal weapons carriage and low-frequency satcom. Payload and range will have to be roughly the same as that of the Rafale or Typhoon, and even if a UCAV is eventually specified, it will “probably” be air-refuelable, according to Gray and his counterpart at the DGA, Laurent Collet-Billon.
The FCAS is “an opportunity to ensure that French and British companies maintain their technological excellence over the long term,” said Eric Trappier, president and CEO of Dassault Aviation, who added that “this two-year study is challenging.” Both companies will develop new simulation tools to carry out tests. Philippe Loty, general manager of Rolls Snecma, told AIN that new materials such as ceramic-matrix composites and 3D-woven composites will be tested for the powerplant.
France and the UK have each allocated an additional $60 million to national studies. According to the DGA, in France this work will mainly concern the further development of stealth technology.