Are There Enough European Requirements For Two Sixth-Gen Fighters?
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Do you think there are enough future requirements in Europe for two sixth-generation fighters: the UK-Italian-Swedish Tempest and French-German-Spanish FCAS consortia?
Tony Osborne, Aviation Week’s London bureau chief, responds:
Although there have been calls to merge the two proposals, that is very unlikely to happen because the systems appear to address two different markets. The UK-led Tempest is rather like the Hawker Hunter or the General Dynamics F-16, a “low-cost fighter”—which the Lockheed Martin F-35 should have been. The difference is that countries will be able to specify what they want in the fighter without being overly reliant on the lead nation.
I see the French-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) as a more expensive, perhaps gold-plated platform, like a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, because it is going to perform the nuclear-strike mission. French versions will need to operate from an aircraft carrier, so that complexity will be built into the design.
In terms of numbers, these European nations will never be able to afford to replace their existing fleets on a one-to-one basis with the FCAS or Tempest, so exports are going to be critical for both programs. One of the early arguments between France and Germany over the FCAS was about making it exportable. (The French are understood to have won that argument.)
As for the Tempest, the Combat Air Strategy document published when the Tempest mockup was unveiled at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow makes 80 references to the need for partners or partnerships to develop the platform.
Air forces will make greater use of low-cost unmanned systems as additive capabilities to support the manned fighter, so there probably would not be enough orders among the countries to justify the huge expense of developing two different platforms. But the fighter programs would spur significant growth in technology, innovation and jobs in the partner nations—and that makes such efforts worthwhile in the eyes of the countries’ leaders. It is what the programs will bring to the export market that matters in terms of there being sufficient requirements.