Safran Aircraft Engines (Safran Group) from France and the German MTU Aero Engines company announced on February 6 a partnership to jointly lead development of the engine that will power the next-generation combat aircraft. The program is part of the Système de Combat Aérien du Future (SCAF)/Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program.
The announcement was made at one of the Safran Group’s sites at Gennevillers, near Paris, in the presence of the French and German Ministers of Defense, Florence Parly and Ursula von der Leyen. Paris and Berlin also announced an initial €65 million ($74m) two-year contract to Dassault Aviation and Airbus for a Joint Concept Study (JCS) of the global architecture of this 6th generation fighter, which will be stealthier than previous designs and feature a twin-engine tailless delta configuration.
The JCS is based on the binational High Level Common Operational Requirements Document (HLCORD), signed at the ILA Berlin Air Show in April 2018 between the defense ministers of France and Germany. The SCAF/FCAS will succeed the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. A first prototype could fly around 2025-2026 with a full entry into service scheduled for around 2040.
Eric Trappier, chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation remarked, “This new step is the cornerstone to ensure tomorrow’s European strategic autonomy and to keep our continent as a world-class leader in the crucial field of air combat systems.”
An entirely new engine will be developed for SCAF/FCAS by both Safran and MTU. In the framework of this partnership, Safran Aircraft Engines will take the lead in engine design and integration, and MTU will head up engine services. The German company will also be in charge of the low- and high-pressure compressors and the low-pressure turbine, while Safran will be responsible for the combustor, high-pressure turbine, and the afterburner, taking advantage of its experience with the M53 (Mirage 2000) and M88 (Rafale) engines. The existing Aerospace Embedded Solutions joint venture (held 50-50 by Safran and MTU) will be in charge of the engine-control hardware and software under the lead of Safran Aircraft Engines.
"Through this collaboration, which represents a step forward, we manifest that Safran is going to play a leading role in the construction of the European defense industry,” said Philippe Petitcolin, CEO of Safran. Reiner Winkler, CEO of MTU Aero Engines, said, “This program represents a milestone for European sovereignty in military engine technology.” Safran and MTU's cooperation began in 1962 when the companies (as Hispano-Suiza and MAN) began building the Rolls-Royce Tyne turboprop under license for Transall and Atlantic military aircraft. Cooperation continued through the 1980/90s with the MTR 390 (Tiger helicopter) and subsequently the TP400 (A400M) transport.
At the February 6 ceremony, Safran also inaugurated a new 3,000-square-meter (32,400-sq-ft) research center for advanced turbine blades in Gennevilliers. The facility is staffed by about 30 engineers and is fitted with advanced-technology machinery and equipment, allowing them to carry out the development work required for next-generation turbine blades. Innovative technologies under study and development include multi-disciplinary design, single-crystal casting, 3D-printed ceramic cores, thermal coatings, cooling circuits, digitized processes, self-adapting micro-drilling, and non-destructive testing based on artificial intelligence.
France’s Délégation Générale pour l’Armement (DGA) has granted Safran a 2019-2024 contract of €115 million ($131 million) to study the architecture of the combustor and high-pressure turbine of the new engine. Thrust will be higher than that of the M88, so Safran will have to design new alloys for blades able to resist temperatures of over 2,000 degrees C, compared with the 1,850 degrees currently encountered in the M88.
For SCAF/FCAS the next steps could come at the Paris Air Show in June, with new contracts expected to be issued for engine and airframe technology demonstrators. Financial sources have evaluated the total cost of this program to be around €100 billion ($114 billion). The program has raised some concerns in Germany, where the CDU party (to which Ursula von der Leyen belongs) has argued that German industry has received a smaller workshare than French industry. There are also concerns in Paris over Berlin’s narrowing attitude toward arms exports. Recently, the French daily newspaper La Tribune revealed that Berlin had vetoed a French export contract for the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile.