The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is a core initiative of the Macron Administration for both defense modernization and building out defense cooperation with its core Airbus allies, Germany and Spain. The Administration is committed to the modernization of their core combat fighter aircraft, the Rafale, for the next thirty years. But FCAS is designed to deliver a next generation fighter aircraft.
This project is designed to replace both the Rafale and the Eurofighter with a “combat cloud” ready aircraft, that is one designed to work interactively with other air assets in delivering the desired combat effects.
It is a clear response to what the Macron Administration views as the F-35 challenge to European sovereignty. And indeed, European sovereignty is a key part of the Macron version of Gaullism, much like the General launched the independent nuclear deterrent.
At its core, the goal is for Germany and France to work closely together in shaping this new collaborative venture. But the significant disconnect between defense inn Germany and France poses a core challenge to the project. And different approaches to arms exports also affects the program and its future.
Even more significant is the pressure of time. Europe is being challenged by Putin significantly. Does Europe have time to wait for enhanced sovereignty in exchange for enhanced defense capabilities in the near to mid-term?
The F-35 is already a significant player in European defense and will steadily enhance its role in the mutli-domain defense being shaped by NATO. The interoperability efforts of NATO are a key part of the Macron Administration’s approach to defense as well, so FCAS will be designed to work with core allies as the program evolves.
But there is a major challenge facing networking in defense, as several initiatives are underway to shape secure communications for the combat force, and some of those clearly are designed to leverage new civilian technologies like 5G.
In this report, we provide our assessments of the standup and evolution of the program over the past three and half years.
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