FCAS Moves into Demonstration Phase, but No Part Yet for Spain

 - February 20, 2020, 11:01 AM
A mock-up of the NGF, and associated Remote Carriers, was unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June 2019. A demonstrator could be flying by 2026, and the type is due to enter service around 2040. (Photo: David Donald)

The Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS, also known by its French acronym SCAF) has received the go-ahead to move into the demonstrator phase. On February 12 the French and German governments awarded an initial framework contract to industrial leads Dassault (France) and Airbus (German), together with major partners MTU Aero Engines, Safran, MBDA, and Thales.

Under this Phase 1A contract, which runs for 18 months, the companies will work on maturing advanced technologies and developing demonstrators. The award signals the transition from the joint concept study phase, which began in early 2019.

The framework allows the companies to focus on the main technology challenges within their assigned domains and specialties. Dassault is the prime contractor for the Next Generation Fighter (NGF) that forms the core element of FCAS, with Airbus as the main partner. Airbus is the prime contractor for the Remote Carrier (RC) unmanned air vehicles that will support the NGF with a range of ISR, defensive, and attack capabilities. MBDA is the main partner for the RC program. The engine is being developed by Safran and main partner MTU, and the development of the Combat Cloud networking/computing element is being led by Airbus with Thales as the main partner. Flight tests of the NGF demonstrator could begin as early as 2026.

A common simulation environment is being jointly created by all partners as part of the framework. This will ensure that technology development and demonstrations are conducted with consistency across the various elements of FCAS.

While the launch of the demonstration phase underlines the commitment of the French and German governments to FCAS and permits the industrial team to deploy the necessary resources to move the project forward in a cooperative and timely fashion, the initial contract does not yet involve Spain, which officially joined the program on February 14, 2019. Spanish industry, and other suppliers, will be included in the Phase 1B contract, expected on the conclusion of the current contract.

However, the involvement of Spanish industry has caused some controversy, notably with Airbus. On joining FCAS, the Spanish government announced that electronic systems and sensor house Indra would lead the country’s industrial team for FCAS. Airbus has objected on the grounds that it regards its own Spanish division—which undertakes a wide range of military aircraft production work—as far better suited to take on this kind of project.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury has repeatedly canvassed in Madrid for the government to reverse its decision, most recently in mid-February. Indra’s president, Fernando Abril-Martorell, has defended the decision, noting that “any other option would have the risk of relegating the Spanish industry to tasks with lower added value.” Spain has joined the program on the basis of being a full partner at both political and industrial levels.

In the meantime, Spanish companies GMV, Tecnobit, and Sener Aeroespecial have agreed to jointly lead Spain’s participation in the RC technology development effort.