Two fighter planes for the SCAF “is not unacceptable” but it is not the preferred solution, according to the DGA – Zone Militaire

Two fighter planes for the SCAF "is not unacceptable" but it is not the preferred solution, according to the DGA - Zone Militaire

Launched in 2017 by France and Germany, the SCAF program [Système de combat aérien du futur]to which Spain later joined, intends to develop a “system of systems” based on a new generation combat aircraft [NGF – New Generation Fighter]which will evolve alongside older devices, drones and effectors connected within a “combat cloud”.

Given its complexity, this program has been organized into several pillars [avion de combat, moteurs, effecteurs connectés, cloud de combat, cohérence d’ensemble, furtivité, capteurs]. And, for each of them, a project manager has been appointed according to the “best athlete” principle. This is how Dassault Aviation was chosen to carry out the work related to the NGF, with Airbus Defense & Security [avec ses filiales allemandes et espagnoles] as main partner.

Only, and although phase 1B, which should pave the way for an NGF demonstrator, should already be underway, Dassault Aviation and Airbus DS are struggling to get along. Thus, and after having made many concessions, according to its CEO, Éric Trappier, the former intends to maintain the levers that would supposedly allow it to ensure the management of the project for which it was appointed. What disputes the second since it claims a more active role in the field of flight controls and stealth.

This disagreement between Dassault Aviation and Airbus DS is already old: in fact, Angela Merkel, the former German Chancellor, mentioned it on February 5, 2021. “It is a project under French leadership, but it still means that German partners may be at a satisfactory level compared to its counterparts. [français]. Therefore, we must look very precisely at questions of industrial property, division of tasks and division of leadership”, he said, after a Franco-German defense council.

Be that as it may, Dassault Aviation does not hide its impatience… And even talks of a “plan B” if there is no progress by the end of this year. And the hypothesis of a failure was mentioned for the first time by the former General Delegate for Armament [DGA], Joël Barre, during his last hearing in the National Assembly, in July. “If we ever fail in the Franco-German projects, we can continue to make combat aviation from the successive developments of the Rafale,” he said.

Are the positions of Dassault Aviation and Airbus DS irreconcilable? In any case, according to Emmanuel Chiva, Mr. Barre’s successor at the head of the General Directorate of Armament [DGA], the two manufacturers are “discussing”. And to add, “I’m looking forward to the outcome” of their “very quick discussions,” as we should know more by the end of this month, he confided to BFMTV on September 13.

However, if an agreement is not reached, two combat aircraft could be developed under the SCAF, one of them by France. This hypothesis had also been presented in February 2021 by the German works council of Airbus Defense & Space and the powerful IG Metall union.

“It is crucial to transfer to younger generations the knowledge of the engineers who worked on the Tornado and the Eurofighter. If Germany does not build its own demonstrator, this knowledge will be lost,” argued Bernhard Stiedl of the IG Metall union at the time. “If Berlin now gives up a demonstrator at the start of the project, then the FCAS will become an industrial policy project for France, largely financed by Germany,” the Airbus Defense & Space works council had argued. Clearly, we are not far from a German “plan B”…

Be that as it may, for Mr. Chiva, “it is not unacceptable that there are two combat aircraft since the aircraft is a platform that is part of the SCAF program” although “it is not the preferred solution today.” And to the question of whether there will be a “new Rafale”, the DGA replied: “There will be a future for French combat aviation, that’s for sure.”

This “future” will be represented by the Rafale F5 standard which, according to General Frédéric Parisot, Major General of the Air and Space Forces [MGAEE] must be “capable of transporting a Loyal Wingman-type crew member [drone de combat autonome, ndlr] “, integrate “artificial intelligence to help the pilot” and have “different means of connectivity”.

As for Germany, the hypothesis put forward by Christian Mölling, director of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik [Conseil allemand des relations étrangères] in the Breaking Defense columns, is that he ends up joining the Tempest program [ou FCAS], led by the United Kingdom, with the support of Italy and Japan. And for both SCAF and FCAS, “no one has the money except Germany,” he noted.

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