Are There Enough European Requirements For Two Sixth-Gen Fighters?

sixth-generation fighter concepts
Credit: Team Tempest (left) and Airbus Defense & Space.

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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.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.


There is not enough "home" market (meaning European) for two such high-end, even more the French carrier and nuclear capable, type. Ratinal approch should be to develop an high-low mix, like F-15E & F-16 late Block to satisfy also minor market, european and foreign incapable to buy very expenzive platform (just look to several minor european countries looking to secodn hand F-16 or leased JAS 39). Such dual approch would also better satisfy the ego of the various national industries: French, British, German, Swedish, Italian, Spanish. Sergio Coniglio Italy
Sorry for several mistakes, possibly replace with the following correct writing, Thanks.
There is not enough "home" market (meaning European) for two such high-end types, even more the French carrier and nuclear capable one. Rational approach should be to develop an high-low mix, like F-15E & F-16 late Block to satisfy also minor markets, both european and foreign, incapable to buy very expensive platforms (just look to several minor european countries looking to second hand F-16 or leased JAS 39). Such dual approach would also better satisfy the “ego” and economic interest of the various national industries: French, British, German, Swedish, Italian, Spanish. Sergio Coniglio - Italy
I tend to agree with the high/low descriptions of FCAS and Tempest, well as far as 6th gen platforms can be termed 'high' or 'low'.
The FCAS will have to have some 'gold plating' due to its role of nuclear strike for France, Germany is apparently going to use F/A-18's for that role.
If it ever comes to having to deliver a nuclear weapon, I, personally; would prefer to have the ASMP-A rather than a B-61underneath me!
Except for the SEPECAT Jaguar, the past 55 years of European fighter development, has seen France's insistence on fighter design leadership see partners breaking away and joining the UK to form joint ventures with the Panavia MRCA Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon. Both of these types achieved large production numbers to meet their host air force requirements as well as export successes. I predict that we will see a repeat performance with Germany eventually joining the UK, Italy and Sweden on the Tempest. The Tempest's modular design and adaptable avionics architecture will allow each partner to tailor their needs according to their mission requirements. This concept naturally makes the Tempest more exportable. By contrast, adding specific aircraft carrier and nuclear roles to the FCAS further complicated the design as 3 different fatigue mission spectra can lead to cost, weight and performance penalties, something the other partners may not want to share. According to recent reports Germany insistence on retaining design skills seem to be incompatible with France's requirements.
In fact we Europeans are making some progress, coming down from 3 platforms (Typhoon, Rafale and JAS39) to just two.
Maybe in about 3 decades we should be able to agree on a single type, but I won't probably be able to comment on such a milestone.
While I have also suggested previously that these two projects should become a high-low complement like the F-16 and F-15 in the past, it may be that current requirements for greater range and payload will lead to a result more like the F-18 and F-14 or F-15. Major European nations will probably require their primary fighter aircraft to perform beyond the scope of the F-16.