FCAS Program, Specification, development


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
The Future Air Combat System (SCAF) programme is essential for the renewal of the combat aviation of France, Germany and Spain by 2040 (when the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon are due to end their service life). It is also essential for the preservation of Europe's strategic autonomy and defence industrial and technological base.

Building, with our German and Spanish partners, a new generation air combat system will make it possible to have the best technologies available and to deal with all threats in the coming decades.

At the end of its work, the mission identified four main challenges for the SCAF programme: taking a new step at the beginning of 2021 to make the programme irreversible; meeting the challenges of 2040-2080 (probable lifespan of the SCAF); making industrial cooperation as effective as possible by avoiding the pitfalls encountered by some of the previous cooperative programmes; and taking account of the European dimension and the existence of a competing programme, Tempest. For each of these issues, the mission presents concrete proposals.

I Make the SCAF programme irreversible before mid-2021

The SCAF is essential and structuring for the coming decades. The current financial commitment, with a first contract of 65 million euros for the Common Concept Study and a second contract of 155 million euros for phase 1A of the demonstrator development, remains too limited to prevent any backtracking. The negotiations, which led to the Franco-German agreement on the first phase of the programme, were laborious. Vigilance is still required to ensure that the programme does not come to a standstill or is delayed too long. In this context, the next twelve months will be crucial to find a new agreement, notably on the question of industrial property and on the "stealth" pillar, and to accelerate the implementation of the programme.

Proposal 1: Favour the signature in early 2021 of a global framework contract to continue the development of the SCAF demonstrator until 2025/2026, rather than a succession of contracts requiring repeated political validation.

Proposal 2: Improve mutual understanding between the three partners; define and publish a "joint defence industrial strategy" including a forward planning of joint projects.

Proposal 3: Encourage the three partners to accelerate the SCAF timetable so that it becomes part of the post-coronavirus economic recovery plans. This would allow the programme to be completed before 2040.

Proposal 4: Invite the German partner to sign an arms export agreement with the Spanish partner similar to the one signed with France.

II Develop the technologies needed for the SCAF to be truly revolutionary in 2040

The SCAF should replace the current air combat systems (Rafale and Eurofighter) by 2040 and remain in service until 2080 or later. The rapid evolution of technologies in combat aviation, but also in artificial intelligence, data exchange, combat clouds, electronic warfare and hypervelocity missiles, as well as the efforts made by our main adversaries and allies to develop ever more efficient systems, make it necessary to project ourselves beyond 2040. The challenge is to avoid developing a combat system that would be obsolete as soon as it is put into service. It is also necessary to take into account, within the framework of the programme, the ethical and legal dimension of artificial intelligence.

Proposal 5: Consider artificial intelligence as a "transversal pillar" of the SCAF, which must be developed with the broadest possible scope of application. Relaunch international discussions on lethal autonomous weapon systems (SALA) in order to arrive at a clear legal framework that is consistent with ethics and the principles of international humanitarian law.

Proposal 6: Consider the 'combat cloud' pillar as a priority at the same level as the aircraft and engine. Prepare, as of now, the integration of the SCAF combat cloud with the Scorpion information and command system (ICS).

Proposal 7: Make the necessary investments to equip the demonstrator planned for 2026 with the M88 engine (Rafale engine) or an evolution of it.

Proposal 8: While aiming for the highest possible performance, integrate environmental concerns from the beginning of the SCAF programme.

III For an efficient and balanced industrial cooperation

The experience of certain international defence cooperation programmes, such as the A400M, has led to the establishment of a highly structured industrial organisation for the SCAF. This is organised into seven pillars: aircraft, engine, remote carriers, combat cloud, simulation/coherence, and soon stealth and sensors. A leader and a main partner have been designated for each of these pillars. If France can count on its first rank defence industrialists, who have already demonstrated their know-how in the main fields concerned by the programme, the positioning of subcontractors must not be neglected, in the interest of an overall industrial balance. It is also necessary to settle the question of industrial property in accordance with the major principles already validated by the Franco-German agreement of December 2019.

Proposal 9: Support the "Best Athlete" principle throughout the SCAF programme (the one that has already demonstrated its competence is the leader) in order to avoid the mistakes of the A400M programme, while remaining vigilant about the participation of French defence SMEs/ETIs in the programme.

Proposal 10: Strengthen the position of the Spanish partner in the "sensors" pillar.

Proposal 11: In terms of intellectual property, protect the background of manufacturers. Provide for a balanced use of the "foreground" (technologies that emerge during development): guarantee each of the participating countries the possibility of maintaining and developing the SCAF after it is put into service; ensure adequate protection of innovations.

Proposal 12: Include ONERA in the SCAF programme, at a fair level given its eminent expertise in combat aviation. Encourage industrialists to use ONERA for subcontracting.

IV Give the SCAF programme a European dimension

If the SCAF programme is for the moment a Franco-German-Spanish project, the opportunity to find synergies with European defence instruments as well as the objective of exportability should lead to the consideration, when the time comes, of an enlargement of the cooperation. Moreover, it would be unwise not to take into account the Tempest programme.

Proposal 13: Endeavour to extend the SCAF programme, in its subsequent stages (post 2026), to new European countries. Develop synergies with European defence instruments (PEDID, CSP, FEDef), in particular with a view to setting up European interoperability standards.

Proposal 14:
Take into account the parallel existence of Tempest as a competitor to the SCAF, the existence of two programmes making the construction of the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (BITDE) more difficult.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
The SCAF is a highly ambitious programme with a threefold dimension: it is a political project linked to the Franco-German friendship and later joined by Spain, a response to a capability requirement, an initiative that is essential for preserving France's strategic autonomy and contributing to the creation of a European strategic autonomy. By its nature as a "system of systems", it is intended to be an innovative response to the threats that armed forces will have to face in 2040.

1. The replacement of the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon
a) The capability requirement

The first reason for launching the SCAF programme is to meet the capability needs of the French, German and Spanish air forces by 2040.

Indeed, there is a relative coincidence in the need to renew the combat aircraft equipment of the three countries:

- On the French side, there is a need to find a successor to the Rafale, which has been in service in the Navy since 1998/99 and in the Air Force since 2006, and which is due to be retired around 2060. The SCAF will thus have to gradually take over from the Rafale F3R1(*), qualified by the DGA in July 2018, and then the upcoming Rafale F4, which will improve the aircraft's connectivity, electronic warfare capabilities and radar efficiency, thus constituting a first step towards the SCAF. The SCAF will also have to be able to assume the nuclear deterrence mission;

- On the German side, there is a need to plan for the succession of the Eurofighter, which has been in service with the LuftWaffe since 2004 and which is due to be withdrawn at about the same time as the Rafale, after having undergone improvements in the meantime. The new system should allow Germany to continue to carry out its nuclear missions for NATO (B61 gravity bombs carried by P200 Torandos);

- on the Spanish side, replacement for the Eurofighter, which was ordered in 2010, 2014 and 2017. It should be noted that the F/A-18A Hornets of the Spanish ALA 46, based in the Canary Islands, taken from US stocks in the 1980s, will expire in 2025. The same will be true, at a later date, for the 60 or so aircraft of the same type subsequently acquired by the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Navy also operates a dozen AV-8 Harrier II aircraft from the Juan Carlos I aircraft carrier. To meet these renewal needs, Spain might be tempted to acquire F35Bs, the only aircraft on the market that could take off vertically from the carrier. However, so far this solution has not been chosen because of Spain's "European preference" and the very high cost of the F35B. Even if the F35B were chosen, it would probably not be a choice that would definitively orient Spain towards the American aircraft manufacturer.

The new air weapon system that will succeed the Rafale and Eurofighter will have to be a multi-role system2(*) adapted to the context of 2040 and the following decades, until its withdrawal, probably around 2080. It is widely believed that this context will be marked by greater contestation of airspace by our adversaries through "Anti-Access/Area Denial" (A2/AD) strategies, implemented through highly capable detection systems (broadband radar) and anti-missile systems (e.g. the Russian S400 and its successors). The result will be a risk of not being able to penetrate enemy spaces, even though mastery of the third dimension remains essential for any military action, including on the ground.

Moreover, the new fighter aircraft will have to be able to carry both the French nuclear weapon and the NATO nuclear weapon used by Germany, which will have an impact on its characteristics that has yet to be specified.

b) Consequences for the future aircraft carrier
The size and weight of the new fighter will have consequences for the dimensions of the possible future French aircraft carrier and for the size of the missiles that could be used and developed in the future.

Currently, the Rafale Marine has a wingspan of 10.90 metres, a length of 15.27 metres, an empty weight of 10 tonnes and a maximum weight of 24 tonnes with armament. The NGF will be heavier for at least three reasons: it will need to be able to carry more effectors, it will need to have a greater flight range and its stealth will probably require a certain volume of bunkers for the missiles.

By comparison, the American F22 stealth fighter has a 13.56-metre wingspan, is 18.9 metres long, weighs 20 tonnes empty and up to 35 tonnes with all its cargo. The model of the NGF presented at Le Bourget was 18 metres long. Admiral Christophe Prazuck, Chief of the Naval Staff, also mentioned during his hearing in the Senate on 23 October 2019 a mass of around 30 tonnes for the NGF as well as dimensions greater than the Rafale, implying a much larger and heavier aircraft carrier than the Charles de Gaulle. The order of magnitude envisaged would be 70,000 tonnes for a 280-300 m long aircraft carrier, compared with 42,000 tonnes and 261 metres for the current aircraft carrier.

2. Keeping a "sovereign" aircraft, maintaining cutting-edge skills
If the development of a European aircraft is not launched today, France and Germany will undoubtedly have to adopt a non-sovereign solution in 2040. This will probably be the F35, which is expected to remain in service until around 2080, or one of its American successors.

France would thus give up its strategic autonomy. It would also give up part of its defence industrial and technological base. It should be remembered that France is one of only three countries, along with the United States and Russia, that can produce a combat aircraft from scratch.

The same would apply to Germany. Germany, despite its traditionally more favourable attitude towards the United States in this area, decided in April 2020 to buy 93 Eurofighter aircraft (BAE Systems, Airbus and Leonardo) and 45 American F-18s (Boeing) to renew its fleet of Tornado aircraft capable of carrying the American nuclear bomb, and not F35s, as the Americans were urging them to do, arguing that only an American aircraft could carry this bomb (even though the Tornado, the current carrier aircraft in the German forces, is a European aircraft).

Moreover, the loss of strategic autonomy that would result from the absence of a new air combat system programme or from launching it too late would probably be permanent. It would indeed be very difficult for European industry, in particular aircraft and engine manufacturers, to skip a generation of aircraft. The cutting-edge skills needed in this field can only be maintained through effective participation in industrial programmes. In particular, for the two main French industrialists involved in the NGF3(*) project, Dassault and Safran, the last military programme dates back to the 1980s with the Rafale. The aircraft manufacturer has not developed a new fighter aircraft since that time, just as the engine manufacturer has not produced a complete engine (hot and cold parts) since the M88 which powers the Rafale. There is therefore an urgent need for the two manufacturers to work on a new large-scale project, mobilising all the skills needed to produce a complete aircraft.

Safran representatives and the CEO of Dassault, when interviewed by the Rapporteurs, described the SCAF as a new air combat system programme, an "existential project". It is this existential nature for European strategic autonomy which, in the final analysis, fully justifies the fact that the need expressed is not covered by an aircraft purchased "off the shelf". Conversely, the A400M may not have had the same "existential" character for Airbus (as the Court of Auditors pointed out in its 2010 report on the conduct of armaments programmes4(*)).

It should also be noted that the international "trend" in fighter aircraft is towards sovereign programmes. Many regional powers have decided to develop their own fighter aircraft, particularly in Asia, for reasons of sovereignty but also to develop a local industrial fabric. This is the case of China with the Chengdu J-20, a twin-engine stealth aircraft; South Korea, which is developing a combat aircraft in cooperation with Indonesia, the KF-X; India, which is developing the HAL AMCA through the national industrialist Hindustan Aeronautics; Japan, which is also developing a stealth aircraft (because it was unable to acquire the F22, which the Americans refused to export); Turkey and Iran. The attachment of the SCAF member countries to their strategic autonomy is therefore widely shared.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
As well as a capability and operational project, the SCAF is from the outset a Franco-German political project, desired by the President of the Republic and announced at the Franco-German Defence and Security Council of 13 July 2017.

The SCAF is thus an additional opportunity to strengthen and build on the Franco-German relationship, in the context of the desire to revive this relationship, which was strongly expressed in the Treaty of Aachen of 22 January 2019. Although the project now includes Spain and will perhaps be joined by other countries, it is in fact first and foremost the product of the cooperation efforts made in recent years between France and Germany, particularly in the area of defence. By committing the two nations to a cooperation that is likely to extend over more than 20 years (and even 50 years if one adds the probable life of the weapon system), the SCAF programme represents the assurance of very intense exchanges over this period, both at the political and industrial levels, just like the Future Combat Tank Project (MGCS) for land programmes.

1. The impetus given by the Aachen Treaty
More than half a century after the signing of the Élysée Treaty under the sign of reconciliation (22 January 1963), the signing of the Franco-German Cooperation and Integration Treaty by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel on 22 January 2019 in Aachen confirmed the will of the two countries to deepen the Franco-German partnership.

In particular, Chapter 2 of the treaty, entitled "Peace, Security and Development", affirms the need to strengthen the bilateral Franco-German defence relationship, with a view to a stronger Europe and in view of the new threats and new international disorders (Brexit, terrorist threat, rise of populism, questioning of the multilateral order by the powerful states, etc.) This chapter also includes a mutual assistance clause, based on Articles 5 (NATO) and 42.7 (EU). It also provides for the development of a common strategic culture with a view to strengthening Franco-German operational cooperation through joint deployments, which refers to the European Intervention Initiative (EII), and confirms the German will to play a more important role on the international scene.

Furthermore, in terms of capability and industrial cooperation, the two parties commit to "[intensify] the development of joint defence programmes and their extension to partners" (Art 4.3) and to "[develop] a common approach" to arms exports for these projects.

Finally, the Aachen Treaty reaffirms the role of the Franco-German Defence and Security Council (CFADS) as the political body for steering these reciprocal commitments. Co-chaired by the President of the Republic and the Federal Chancellor, the CFADS brings together the Foreign and Defence Ministers of both countries and was last formally held on 13 July 2017 in Paris.

2. Prospects for strengthening Franco-German operational cooperation to be confirmed
The SCAF project emerged in a context of new perspectives for operational cooperation between France and Germany. The Treaty of Aachen confirmed the progress made in this area in recent years. The willingness to act jointly "wherever possible [...] in order to maintain peace and security" (Art 4.2) shows a willingness to reinforce the trend observed in recent years of German deployments in French zones of interest (Sahel and Levant). It seems essential to capitalise on Germany's increased commitment in these theatres, particularly in the Sahel, where German support could be strengthened in the event of a withdrawal of all or part of the US capabilities (air-to-air refuelling, tactical and strategic transport, intelligence).

Germany's participation in the European Intervention Initiative (EII), which was launched around ten countries in June 2018 and now has 13 participating countries5(*), could also bring the common strategic cultures of France and Germany closer together with a view to facilitating the joint deployment of their military forces. The IEI thus takes the form of working groups, placed at headquarters level, in the fields of strategic anticipation, scenario development and planning, support for operations, as well as feedback and sharing of doctrines.

France has also announced its return to Lithuania alongside Germany in 2020 as part of NATO's reinforced forward presence. The French participation in this framework translates into the sending of 300 soldiers, 4 Leclerc tanks and 13 armoured infantry fighting vehicles.

However, Germany's desire to become more involved on the international scene, as expressed in the 2016 White Paper and the 2018 coalition contract, has not yet had a major effect on Franco-German operational cooperation. For example, the Franco-German brigade deployed in Mali (November 2018 - March 2019) saw German units join MINUSMA and EUTM Mali while French soldiers were integrated into the Barkhane force. Joint engagement cooperation in hard combat is not conceivable in the foreseeable future: Germany does not plan to participate in Task Force Takuba and should limit itself to political support for the European Maritime Surveillance Mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASoH).

More generally, French initiatives do not always receive the desired response. The mission was also able to observe this during its visit to Berlin: regarding the Sahel, the German parliamentarians questioned the modalities of the military intervention in Mali and regretted the lack of coordination between the various initiatives in support of the G5 Sahel. Germany should nevertheless be more involved in the International Coalition for the Sahel by piloting the "support for the return of state services and administrations" pillar.

3. Recent progress in Franco-German capability cooperation
Since the establishment of the roadmap dedicated to the follow-up of projects endorsed in the framework of the CFADS of 13 July 2017, Franco-German cooperation has made significant progress in the capability field.

After signing letters of intent on the SCAF and the Future Tank (MGCS) at the Meseberg summit on 19 June 2018, the ministers specified in Brussels on 19 November 2018 the distribution of leadership for these programmes: Germany will be the leader on the MGCS and France on the SCAF.

In addition, the signature of a global EUROMALE contract is desired for the second half of 2020, subject to financial competitiveness. Finally, 2020 will also see the launch of feasibility studies for the Maritime Patrol Aircraft System (MAWS) programme, following the signature of a ministerial letter of intent on 26 April 2018

In general, France and Germany are seeking to exploit the potential offered by the new European tools in the capability field (Permanent Structured Cooperation (PSC), European Defence Fund - EDF), by presenting numerous projects in a European framework (MALE drone, ESSOR radio software or modernisation of the standard Tiger III).


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
The progressive evolution of the German position on defence issues

1. Germany's traditionally cautious stance on external relations and defence

In 2012, in his report on the bill to ratify the agreement on the Franco-German Brigade, our colleague Jean Marie Bockel underlined the tensions between the two countries in the area of defence, particularly with regard to the intervention in Libya (2011). Among the subjects of discussion, he mentioned the disagreements within NATO, notably on the role of nuclear deterrence and disarmament or on joint financing. It also mentioned the conclusion of the Franco-British defence agreements in 2010 (Lancaster House Agreement), which may have raised questions in Germany.

Furthermore, the report stressed that, given the budgetary context, the time did not seem favourable for deepening Franco-German defence cooperation. Germany was in fact engaged in a profound reform of its defence apparatus, with in particular the abolition of conscription and the closure of many garrisons. In France, the defence apparatus had undergone a major transformation, with the reduction of personnel and the reform of support.

Finally, the Senate report stressed that although German political and military leaders had begun to reflect on the need for their country to play a greater role in defence and security issues, and although the German army was engaged in several theatres, such as Afghanistan, German public opinion was still reticent about external operations, particularly when these were combat operations.

2. An evolution towards a more active posture following the Libyan crisis

a) A gradual evolution of the German doctrine

Following the abstention on the intervention in Libya (UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of March 2011), the Merkel III government (2013-2018) initiated a reflection on a greater assumption of responsibility by Germany on the international scene. At the Munich Security Conference in 2014, Federal President J. Gauck, Defence Minister U. von der Leyen (CDU) and Foreign Minister F.-W. Steinmeier (SPD) stated in three speeches that Germany was ready to assume its international responsibilities and to become more involved. This call for greater international involvement has been called the "Munich Consensus". Germany's strong involvement in Ukraine in 2014, especially in the Normandy format, was a concrete expression of this increased commitment.

The reflection on this reorientation also extended to the field of defence. In the coalition agreement of 2013, the government already indicated that the Bundeswehr was an "army on deployment" (Militär im Einsatz), which marked a break with the tradition of restraint and with the pacifist position of a large part of public opinion and certain parties. This approach was confirmed in the 2016 White Paper. This evolution is also accompanied by a budgetary effort: the Chancellor promised, ahead of the NATO summit in July 2018, to reach 1.5% of GDP in 2024 devoted to defence. While the objective set at NATO level remains 2%, Mr Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the German ambassador to France, pointed out during his hearing before your committee that the German defence budget has already increased by 40% over the last five years.

b) Persistent reluctance and growing opposition to arms exports

However, the Bundeswehr remains a parliamentary army, with the Bundestag's mandate being the essential prerequisite for any external intervention. Moreover, German parties and administrations are still very divided on these issues, even if public opinion is gradually moving towards greater approval of greater external involvement. Furthermore, Germany is often criticised by civil society and some political parties for its status as the world's 5th largest arms exporter. For example, the new coalition agreement includes a ban on arms supplies to countries directly involved in the war in Yemen.

Following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi on 2 October 2019, Germany has announced the suspension of its arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for international regulation of cruise missiles. While the Chancellor called in February 2019 for the "development of a common European arms export culture", the SPD opposes more arms exports and advocates a ban on all exports to war-torn countries, crisis hotspots and outside NATO. It also opposes a sharp increase in the defence budget.

c) Multiple German commitments in foreign theatres

Despite the persistence of this reluctance, the Bundeswehr is now involved in multiple theatres of operation. After the decision in 2014 to deliver arms to the Iraqi peshmergas in their fight against the Islamic State, breaking the taboo of exporting arms to conflict zones (to a non-state actor, moreover), the support given by Berlin to French operations following the Paris attacks illustrates the turn taken by Germany towards a more active external engagement.

Furthermore, shaken by the migration crisis and the risk of terrorism, Berlin has been more involved in Africa for several years, particularly in the Sahel (Mali: MINUSMA, EUTM Mali, EUCAP Sahel, Niger - however, it stopped participating in operations in Somalia at the beginning of 2018), in support of the G5 and its joint force.

d) Germany's renewed commitment to multilateralism and UN Security Council reform

Germany is also seeking to strengthen its role in the UN and Foreign Minister Maas has agreed with Le Drian to launch a "Multilateralism Initiative". Berlin is also keen to increase German voluntary contributions to the UN and to continue its involvement in peacekeeping operations.

Germany also wants to obtain a permanent seat on the Security Council, as well as for the other G4 members (Brazil, India and Japan). The coalition agreement also sets the longer-term goal of a permanent seat for the European Union. France is opposed to this. The Chancellor reiterated this proposal in June 2018 and Vice-Chancellor O. Scholz even proposed recently (28 November 2018) that France's seat be transformed, "in the medium term", into an EU seat. However, the Auswärtiges Amt immediately disassociated itself from this proposal, which has not been renewed since. But it regularly resurfaces, as in the recent article by CDU President Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, published on 10 February in Die Welt am Sonntag.

3. A rebalancing of the German position in favour of European defence policy?

On her return from the G7 in Taormina (May 2017), the Chancellor stated that "we Europeans really must take our destiny into our own hands" because "the times when we could totally rely on others are partly over". Trade and defence issues were thus at the heart of German-American bilateral difficulties in the summer of 2018. NATO and the US nuclear umbrella remain the pillars of German and European security for Berlin ("irreplaceable guarantor" according to the coalition agreement). However, the German Chancellor now advocates maintaining a multilateral approach in the face of US unilateralism in trade and security matters. Vice-Chancellor O. Scholz (SPD) has also spoken out in favour of a greater Europeanisation of the arms industry.

Source: Report of the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on the Aachen Treaty.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
1. A strong bilateral defence and security relationship

France and Spain have long enjoyed a good bilateral defence and security relationship. This relationship was institutionalised in 2005 with the creation of the Franco-Spanish Defence and Security Council (CFEDS). It has also been reflected in agreements on defence cooperation. In particular, the final declaration of the Brest CFEDS in 2013 constitutes a roadmap that evokes the strong commitment of France and Spain to European defence (strengthening the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in its strategic, operational, capability and industrial aspects), as well as to the approximation of operational capabilities in areas of common interest: the Mediterranean, the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa. Madrid also joined the European Intervention Initiative (EII) on 25 June 2018.

On the operational side, Spain and France cooperate in several European missions: EUTM-Somalia, EUTM-Mali, EUTM-RCA, EUNAVFOR MED IRINI. The two countries also have a joint action for the benefit of the security forces of the Sahel countries, within the framework of the G5, or through the "5+5 Defence" initiative, a forum for multilateral cooperation between the two shores of the Western Mediterranean bringing together Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and Portugal.

As far as defence industrial cooperation is concerned, Spain's participation in major military programmes began in the 1980s with the Euro?ghter programme and has continued through multilateral cooperation, notably through its membership of the OCCAr. France and Spain participate in several defence industrial cooperation programmes: the Tiger, the A400M, the European UAV and now the SCAF. Spain is generally very favourable to European defence cooperation: as the leading contributor to EU operations, the country is now more oriented towards Europe than the United States in this area and strongly supports the PSC.

2. A valuable contribution to the SCAF

Spain's entry into the project, after a phase that was probably too exclusively Franco-German, is therefore excellent news for the SCAF.

The French authorities initially gave priority to the Franco-German phase in order to establish the foundations of the industrial and research partnership, and Spain was only able to join the project with a slight delay. However, Spain's political determination to participate in the SCAF project is very strong: committed by the Rajoy government, this participation was confirmed as soon as the Sanchez government took office in mid-2018.

The face-off between France and Germany, sometimes marked by misunderstandings, is thus being transformed into a three-way game reflecting the diversity of European defence cultures, in which France, a central country in Europe, will no doubt be able to play the role of mediator between its two neighbours to the north and south, as and when necessary.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
While the political interest of Franco-German cooperation is obvious, it is undeniably more complex to develop a project through international cooperation than to develop it entirely in-house. The mission's interlocutors all recalled the many difficulties encountered by European programmes such as the A400M. Similarly, the precedent of the French withdrawal from the Eurofighter programme in 1985, only a year and a half after the start of the project, followed by the launch of the competing Rafale project, is remembered by all. Technologically speaking, and without minimising the challenge that this would represent, French industry would probably be able to produce the entire SCAF. However, this would be a very costly option. Finally, Franco-German-Spanish cooperation will make it possible to preserve French strategic autonomy while betting on a future European strategic autonomy.

1. A project undoubtedly too costly for a single country
Most of the mission's interlocutors took it for granted that a programme such as the SCAF was unthinkable within the framework of a single country, as the development costs of such a complex programme put it beyond the reach of a single national budget. Developing a fighter aircraft today is more expensive than in the past, let alone developing an air system of systems like the SCAF.

For example, the engine manufacturers chosen for the project (Safran and MTU) recalled during their hearing that the United States had paid more than one billion dollars over the last two years to each of its two engine manufacturers (Pratt&Whitney and General Electric) to maintain their lead in the field of hot engine parts, compared, for example, with the "Turenne 2" upstream study programme (PEA), worth 115 million euros, notified by the DGA to Safran to consolidate its skills. More generally, the simultaneous development of a new combat aircraft platform, a new engine, several types of UAVs and a specific combat cloud represents an extremely large investment that seems very heavy for a single country.

However, while international defence cooperation slightly increases the amount of non-recurring costs (research and development), it also allows them to be shared between the partners and thus reduces the total expenditure to be borne by each state. It also makes it possible, because of the size of the orders, to obtain more attractive unit prices (production costs can be reduced thanks to greater industrialisation of processes made possible by the volume of the series ordered). Finally, as the Court of Auditors emphasised in its 2018 report6(*), savings will also be possible during the operational phase, through the pooling of support, and in particular the industrial phase of maintaining equipment in operational condition.

Cost sharing is therefore a necessity in order to preserve the strategic autonomy of each of the programme's member countries in terms of air combat systems.

1.4 billion in commitment authorisations to cover the launch of the first development activities of the demonstration programme. The planned investment in the SCAF, shared equally between Paris and Berlin7(*), is currently about 4 billion euros between now and 2025-2026 (demonstrator), and 8 billion euros between now and 2030, after which industrialisation expenditure will follow. The total cost of the programme is estimated by some analysts to be in the range of €50-80 billion.

2. A project guided by the imperative of national and European strategic autonomy
In addition to the financial aspect already mentioned, the convergence of the interests of France, Germany and Spain in the field of combat aviation suggests that the three countries will better preserve their strategic autonomy by cooperating together. It is also a bet on the future: that the programme will make it possible, beyond the three current participating countries, to promote greater European strategic autonomy.

a) Becoming competitive again in the export market
(1) Aiming for "exportability" from the outset of the programme

Building the SCAF cooperatively ensures, at the very least, that the project participants will buy it rather than competing American products, in this case the F35 and its possible future variants.

Moreover, as the Airbus representatives emphasised at the hearing, exportability is not limited to the project participants: the aircraft, like the remote carriers, must be attractive for export in order to lower production costs and spread European standards.

Although the three European fighters of the current generation (Rafale, Eurofighter, Gripen) have been successful on the export market, one can nonetheless speak of an overall weakening of the export capacity due to this division. This is undoubtedly due to the F35, which, despite all the criticism it has received on a technical level, has so far been very successful on the export market. The realisation of an NGWS in cooperation in Europe will therefore be a strong point for its export. However, competition with the British Tempest project would be a major drawback (see below).

(2) The necessary "de-ITARisation
The strengthening of strategic autonomy is largely related to the issue of "de-ITARisation", i.e. less exposure to the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), which allows the United States to oppose the export of equipment with American components. The ITAR regulation thus hangs like a sword of Damocles over many French export projects. In recent years, we can cite the export of the SCALP missile to Egypt or threats, whether carried out or not, on various export projects to India, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, a great deal of equipment contains electronic components of American origin and, in particular, most French aircraft are in line with the ITAR regime. This problem is also shared by Germany and Spain. The SCAF project therefore integrates from the outset the need to be less dependent on ITAR8(*) regulations in the future.

b) A cooperation project encouraged by the evolution of the international context
The need for greater strategic autonomy is also the result, in the opinion of all the interlocutors heard by the mission, of the evolution of the international context, which weighs equally on the three countries of the programme and must encourage them to "close ranks" to better face the threats of the "power states".

Thus, the Brexit raises questions about the future positioning of the United Kingdom and the continuation of joint armaments projects with that country.

Furthermore, the transformation of the American attitude towards the defence of Europe since the election of D. Trump as President of the United States has contributed to a shift in Germany's position towards one that is more favourable to European defence. This was reflected in the following statement by the Chancellor on her return from the G7 in Taormina (May 2017) "we Europeans really have to take our destiny into our own hands because the days when we could totally rely on others are partly over." (see box above).

c) Towards European strategic autonomy?
(1) A project of major importance for European industry

According to Joël Barre, General Delegate for Armaments, the SCAF's exceptional scale (between 50 and 80 billion euros according to estimates) means that it can structure the defence system as a whole at European level and become a driving force for European industry, with many potential spin-offs in the civilian sector.

According to Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space (ADS), who was interviewed by the mission in Berlin, the SCAF was a unique opportunity to build on Europe's strong point: its great diversity, a source of creativity and emulation. In his view, this makes it possible to carry out projects at the highest level for a lower financial investment than that made by the United States for the same type of programme.

(2) A long-term commitment to European strategic autonomy, which involves the issue of interoperability
The transition from the strategic autonomy of France, Germany and Spain to European strategic autonomy is probably not self-evident. It is above all a gamble: that other European countries will join the project and buy the new system of systems.

A three-way project is already very complex. As the CEO of Dassault Aviation pointed out at his hearing, the three-country core must already be very solid for it to be reasonable to envisage an expansion to other European countries.

The future link between the SCAF project and the European Union could be established through the new European defence instruments: Permanent Structured Cooperation (PSC), the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) and the European Defence Fund (EDF):

- For PSC, projects have been selected in three stages since 2017, with the latest selection taking place in November 2019, bringing the total to 47 projects. One of these projects is entitled "EU Collaborative Warfare Capabilities (ECoWAR)" and brings together France, Belgium, Hungary, Romania, Spain and Sweden. The definition of this project around collaborative warfare and connected platforms concerns all environments and not only air. It is a forum where the representatives of the States can identify the capability needs and future doctrines of use, as well as the building blocks necessary for the construction of collaborative combat.

The ECoWar programme is of some importance in the perspective of building, with France's European partners who have also chosen the F35, an interoperability that can overcome the constraint linked to the absence of native interoperability of the American aircraft. Several countries, such as Belgium and Italy, which have found that they cannot make the F35 interoperable with their other combat aircraft, are therefore turning to this programme. More generally, the ECoWar project aims to review all NATO (FMN)9(*) and European (ESSOR)10(*) interoperability work to advance a European vision of interoperability. Thus, the arrival of other European countries in the SCAF programme could be achieved through this interoperability issue;

- With regard to the PEDID, which includes 500 million euros of funding, including two tranches of 200 million euros for calls for tender in 2019 and 2020, France is also carrying out cooperation projects in the field of air combat (equipment, training resources), thus endeavouring to build networks with industrialists from other European countries on these themes on the periphery of the SCAF;

- Last but not least, a series of meetings will take place until the end of 2020 in order to structure the EDFEF. The question of the new generation fighter aircraft will necessarily be part of the discussions, as well as, most probably, the question of how the EDFEF could have, in one way or another, "points of adhesion" with the SCAF. Here again, it will be a question of having a broad cooperation approach on the bricks of the system, beyond the initial members of the SCAF programme.

All in all, the challenge is to find convergences between multilateral approaches and the Community approach. The European Commission will probably also wish, within the framework of these Community instruments, to make progress on defence issues including collaborative combat, precisely in order to give them a more Community dimension: it will then be necessary to ensure that the coherence and solidity of the SCAF itself are maintained while building on the impetus given by the Commission. Moreover, such a situation is already being tested with the Euromale UAV, supported by the PEDID for 90 million euros11(*).

d) SCAF and NATO
For the moment, NATO does not directly address the subject of SCAF. However, the organisation is developing and standardising interoperability rules (STANAGs on data links) applicable to the air combat cloud of its member countries, within which the SCAF data links will have to be integrated.

NATO is also developing a replacement programme for the AWACS called the "Future Alliance Surveillance and Control System" (AFSC), which is funded by the allies to the tune of 120 million euros as a control and communication system. It will not be a single platform but a system of systems, which will intersect with the SCAF architecture in that future platforms will have to be able to connect to it. There is a risk that this future NATO system will be directly derived from American standards. It is therefore imperative to take this aspect into account from the start of the SCAF programme.

Moreover, within NATO, the SCAF is considered as an opportunity for the modernisation of the air fleets of member countries. A reflection will have to be carried out on how the NATO missions taken on by Germany and France will be accomplished with the SCAF, and with what added value compared to the present situation: deep strike, air superiority, etc.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
All the mission's interlocutors insisted on one essential aspect of the SCAF programme: it is a project that is intended to be totally innovative compared with previous combat aircraft projects. This novelty is embodied in the term "system of systems". Thus, the SCAF will not be just another Rafale or Eurofighter, but such an airborne 'system of systems'.

This 'system of systems' will have three concentric circles. In the centre, the fighter aircraft called NGF (next generation fighter). Then, encompassing this and including, in addition to the NGF, the remote carriers and the combat cloud, the NGWS (new generation weapon system). Then the SCAF itself, encompassing the previous ones and adding the other existing national capabilities (Rafale and Eurofighter) as well as tankers, reconnaissance aircraft and command systems, right up to satellites.

Thus, we are talking about "the" SCAFs, each of which will be country-specific but all of which will be interoperable. The three countries in the programme will cooperate to build the core of each national SCAF: the NGWS (NGF + Remote Carriers, within a combat cloud). This NGWS will be able to act either autonomously or in a network with air, naval, ground or space combat or command systems (referred to as "NGWS within a SCAF"), and then, beyond that, in interoperability with NATO and EU assets. Thus, the other national air combat assets that will work in a network with the NGWS components (current airborne platforms, in particular the Rafale and its future developments, future cruise missiles developed with the United Kingdom, current armaments and UAVs) are taken into account in the equation from the start of the programme.


An international cooperation project must be based on a common analysis of the need in order to have any chance of success. It was therefore imperative that the two, then three, member countries of the programme should manage to translate their operational requirements into a common envelope and not a list of juxtaposed national requirements, otherwise the difficulties of the A400M programme would be repeated.

As the Court of Auditors pointed out in its aforementioned 2010 report on the conduct of armaments programmes, a common feature of cooperative programmes is the inflation of technical specifications, which leads to very costly production conditions. In the case of the A400M, for example, Germany demanded particularly stringent performance requirements for the navigation system. Similarly, the NH90 helicopters have different engines for the French and Italian versions and are produced in 27 different versions for all participating countries. As another example, three production and assembly lines exist for the Tiger (France, Germany, Spain).

France and Germany have thus carried out an analysis of their common needs in terms of the combat aircraft of the future. All the desired specifications were the subject of a document co-signed on 26 April 2018 by General André Lanata, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, and General Bühler, Director General for Planning: the HLCORD (High Level Common Requirement), approved the following year by Spain. The HLCORD describes in some detail the requirements to be met by the NGWS, the core of the national SCAF of each of the countries participating in the programme.

In order to achieve these common specifications of military requirements, the two countries had to agree on the missions that could be carried out. It will have to be a multi-purpose system, which will include, at France's request, the possibility of deck landing (whereas Germany does not have an aircraft carrier), as well as the capacity to carry out NATO missions performed by the German air force. It is therefore a question of building, with the Germans and the Spanish, a system that responds to the broadest envelope of needs (which, de facto, corresponds essentially to the needs of the French army since it is the latter that carries out the broadest missions). The "survivability" of this future aircraft is underlined, as well as its capacity to be interoperable with Nato and EU assets. It should be able to operate in a contested air environment and engage all types of air defence. Above all, the HLCORD states that the SCAF's performance will be collective and will come from the ability of each of its components to interact with the others.
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Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
1. The SCAF architecture

By 2040, threats are expected to have evolved significantly. Long-range air defences and denial of access systems, which are in full expansion with the export of Russian systems (S400 and following), will have been "democratised". The stealth of aircraft will be generalised, the enemy will systematically use cyber defence means, drones flying in swarms or not, and hypervelocity missiles. The integration of land/sea/air/space defences and cyber capabilities will itself be much more developed. The challenge for future combat aviation will thus be to have the capacity to gain and maintain air superiority, in order to be able to act through the third dimension, both on land and at sea.

Building the SCAF therefore requires a paradigm shift. The systemic threat will have to be met by an SCAF that is itself built as a system in order to conduct "collaborative combat". The SCAF will thus necessarily comprise several components, themselves arranged in several circles.

- The first circle is the NGWS (next generation weapon system) which includes

- a fighter aircraft that is a priori manned at this stage (the NGF) capable of carrying out interception missions and air/air defence and, in the French case, deterrence. There thus seems to be a need to maintain a manned aircraft, especially in cases where the decision to intervene has a strong political dimension; moreover, unmanned systems are more exposed to jamming or destruction of their long-distance data link (satellite). However, this aspect is likely to change in the future (see Part III);

- Remote carriers" (remote effectors), which can have a mass in the kilogram to tonne range, unmanned machines with saturation capabilities (sending out swarms to saturate enemy defences), decoying, intelligence (before and during the mission), and even strikes against heavily defended targets. Some of them will be recoverable by direct return or by recovery on the ground, others will be consumable like ammunition. They will have a certain degree of autonomous capabilities (artificial intelligence), in particular in order to deal with threats they may encounter ahead of combat aircraft;

- all within an "Air Combat Cloud" connecting all the platforms and enabling collaborative combat.

- The second circle will include, for France, the Rafale in its future versions, satellites, refuelling aircraft, radar aircraft, naval ships, satellites, allied forces' resources, etc.

All the elements that make up these two circles will have to communicate with each other permanently in order to form a team led by the pilots of the combat aircraft. Thus, interoperability, connection and dialogue between platforms within the combat cloud will be essential. Military capability will lie less in the unitary performance of the constituent elements (platforms, sensors, effectors) than in the way they are combined. This system will be able to decide, depending on the threat or the evolution of the situation, which platform should attack (drone, missile) and which platform should remain behind.

In any case, the attack formations should comprise fewer combat aircraft than at present, as the number effect can be achieved through the various remote carriers, whose attrition will be easier to accept since they will be unmanned and potentially less expensive, individually, than a combat aircraft.

2. Necessary innovations
To be ready for 2040 and remain competitive until 2080, the SCAF will have to be highly innovative. It is not only a question of maintaining an effective combat superiority over the means deployed by adversaries, but also of being attractive for export. Only a system with one or more totally exclusive and innovative "bricks" will be competitive with competitors who are very experienced in arms exports.

The new system-of-systems organisation thus makes innovations indispensable in the following areas

- Aircraft technologies: better propulsion thanks to a hotter engine (see below) and variable cycle technology, better stealth, better manoeuvrability. The fighter aircraft, which will be optionally "droned", remains at the centre of the SCAF. It is clearly the intention of the programme's leaders to regain the lead in 2040 over current and future adversaries and competitors with a fighter aircraft with the best possible capabilities by that date.

- sensor technologies, with the development of antennas combining radar, listening, communication and electronic warfare

- remote carrier technology, with breakthroughs needed in particular in terms of cost reduction for consumable drones, miniaturisation and swarm flight.

Three areas of technological innovation also require specific development: connectivity and the combat cloud; artificial intelligence, the new engine.

3. The challenges of connectivity and the combat cloud
Connectivity aspects will be essential. This will probably include a high-speed intra-patrol link, a high-speed satellite link and possibly optical links (see box below). Cyber security will also be a key issue for the whole system. The SCAF will also have to be able to operate without connectivity in the event of a total loss of connections. On all these aspects, the French Air Force is currently developing the [email protected]éro12(*) project, taking into account existing systems, whether it is the Syracuse 4 satellite or the Omega navigation system, or the Rafale F4 for which the connectivity "brick" will be central.

Data management will also be a key aspect of the SCAF. The vast amount of data produced by the many aircraft that will make up the SCAF will have to be sorted, processed and analysed in order to provide the best information to operational staff.

Currently, the Rafale is already networked, but the pilot uses mainly his own sensors and, to a lesser extent, information provided by the network. Much of the data from the aircraft's sensors is not shared. The new generation of air combat will go hand in hand with better sensor capabilities; better use of the electromagnetic spectrum; increased storage capacity; artificial intelligence to extract and process data; heterogeneous data fusion tools and architectures, integrating raw data from on-board or remote sensors, which are already being used in isolation by 5th generation aircraft (F22 and F35); and finally, better diversity and speed of application development. Thus, on the SCAF, the management of data transfer by the network will have to be done independently of the pilot, who will only see the merged data. He will thus supervise the entire process. In total, this will be a paradigm shift from data exchange dictated by the network format to data that is at the centre of the system13(*).

The ultimate goal of the tactical cloud is thus to accelerate decision-making and its execution, so as to achieve tactical superiority.

A crucial aspect of the cloud and data links will also be their robustness against cyber-electronic threats: the NGWS is likely to operate in a highly constrained and scrambled electromagnetic environment, which will require the ability to operate without connections.

One of the key features of the SCAF will also be that it will be an open system, capable of interconnecting and interoperating all the weapons systems with each other. This approach is new: even the United States has until now implemented more closed systems. Thus, the F35, despite its modernity and performance, is rather a closed system, which explains the difficulties it has in working outside its own network.

However, this raises the question of the authority capable of imposing the standards of this interoperability. One possibility would have been integration with the American standards that support the F35. However, here again, this would be a major blow to European strategic autonomy. France has therefore decided instead to develop its own Cloud with Germany and Spain, which will then involve working on NATO interoperability. In concrete terms, the SCAF countries must have the capacity to develop an interoperability standard that will replace NATO's Link 16, which is based on American technology and therefore cannot be used outside the United States without their agreement (see the EcoWar programme already mentioned, page ).
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Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
4. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be essential to the performance of the SCAF. It will be a virtual assistant for the pilot, capable of helping him in his decision making by sorting the most relevant information from the sensors in order to avoid saturation and reduce combat stress. AI will also enable the automatic generation of mission plans, the adaptation of sensors to the terrain and predictive maintenance. It will also play a role in the field of cooperation between drones. AI will thus play an essential role both within the NGF and for remote carriers.

AI developments touch a very broad field, in particular military organisation and ethical issues (use of lethal force/laws of war). In any case, for the time being, artificial intelligence is considered by the SCAF programme leaders as a means of increasing the capabilities of humans, who would remain at the heart of the system, rather than as a means of replacing them(*). It is in this spirit that the Ministry of the Armed Forces launched the "Man Machine Teaming" (MMT) project on 16 March 2018, which aims precisely at preparing the artificial intelligence technologies needed for the combat aviation of the future. A contract has been awarded to Dassault Aviation and Thales. Within the framework of this programme, a quarter of the studies will be entrusted to laboratories, innovative SMEs and start-ups specialising in artificial intelligence, robotics and new man/machine interfaces. The aim is to develop technologies that will benefit both the modernised Rafale and the future SCAF. Two calls for projects have already been launched and have enabled companies to be selected.

5. The challenge of designing a new engine
The development of a new engine to power the NGF is one of the major challenges of the SCAF programme.

a) A matter of strategic autonomy
Once again, this is a matter of strategic autonomy for Europe: maintaining its ability to produce a fighter aircraft engine like the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, with China also making major investments in this area.

This is a key issue for SAFRAN, which contributes to the production of civil engines, but only for the "cold parts" (low-pressure parts, considered to be slightly less "sharp" than the hot parts), in partnership with General Electric (GE) on the CFM56, the engine of the Airbus A320, within the 50/50 joint venture CFM International. The SCAF should thus enable SAFRAN to maintain its "hot parts" capabilities, including civil engines, whereas the company has not produced any hot parts for engines since the M88 Rafale.

b) A technical challenge
The technical challenge for a fighter aircraft is to obtain the most compact and most powerful engine possible.

The maximum thrust of the Rafale's M88 is 7.5 tonnes (with variations pushed to over 8 tonnes). This is less thrust than that of its direct competitor, the Eurofighter J200 (9 tonnes), a heavier aircraft than the Rafale, and even less than that of the Pratt&Whitney F135, the engine of the F35 (up to 20 tonnes of thrust for a single-engine aircraft heavier than the Rafale). The objective is to achieve at least 12 tonnes of thrust for the engine that will power the SCAF NGF, as this aircraft will necessarily be larger and heavier than the Rafale. More power means a higher operating temperature. Currently, the F35 engine has a significant lead over the Rafale M88 engine in this respect.

The DGA has awarded Safran a €115 million contract for the Turenne 2 upstream study programme (PEA) to work on a power increase for the M88, which could eventually benefit the Rafale and also enable progress on the SCAF15(*).

The second challenge for the future NGF engine is to have technological innovations that will enable it to maintain high thrust at supersonic speeds and reduce fuel consumption at low altitude. The engine's variable cycle technology, by varying the proportion between the hot and cold air flows, makes it possible to achieve such a result. It is also a very active field of research for American engine manufacturers (experimental tests on the F35 engine).

These technical challenges are considerable. It is worth noting that Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, the two US engine manufacturers, have each received more than a billion dollars over 10 years to meet them. At present, of the 150 million euros earmarked on 20 February 2020 for SCAF Phase 1A, 91 million euros are earmarked for the aircraft and only 18 million euros for the engine.

During their hearing, Safran representatives made it clear that they were aware of this challenge to create the NGF engine.

6. A necessarily incremental approach

In order to be able to adopt technologies as they emerge by integrating new capabilities into the programme under development, it must benefit from an incremental approach. This gradual evolution of operational capabilities is also necessary in the context of future developments of the Rafale, which will accompany the NGF for several decades.

Thus, according to MBDA representatives, a cooperative combat system could be developed before 2030. This stage could be reached in the framework of a Rafale F4 and the [email protected] programme. Then, in the early 2030s, collaborative functionalities between aircraft and between aircraft and effectors (weapons and first Remote Carriers) could be implemented. The Rafale F5 and the Typhoon LTE could be an opportunity to implement this capability step. Finally, beyond 2035, we would see the progressive deployment of the components of the Next Generation Weapon System.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
Remote carriers, versatile tools for the combat of the future

There are many possible applications for remote carriers, which can weigh from a few kilos to several tonnes: penetrating enemy defences by saturating them with numbers; decoying enemy aircraft; carrying out electronic warfare missions (jamming); designating targets for other aircraft; carrying out reconnaissance missions; launching missiles in place of combat aircraft, etc.

MBDA is particularly interested in smaller remote carriers, which would be "consumables", i.e. they would not be recoverable. They will eventually be equipped with an explosive charge to destroy them in the event of loss, so that their technology does not benefit the enemy. These small remote carriers will also have to be inexpensive as they will have to be used in large numbers.

Airbus is working more on more massive remote carriers, potentially weighing several tonnes, which would be dropped from large aircraft (A400M). They could be recovered on the ground or in flight, while the larger ones could be equipped with landing gear. Accompanying manned aircraft, they would be "loyal wingmen", capable of conducting combat operations, defending manned aircraft or gathering intelligence.

The central issue of satellite communication

The SCAF will therefore be based on a very important exchange of data, via the networking of all the players. Controlling these exchanges is fundamental and represents a real sovereignty issue without calling into question the search for very high interoperability (...).

Today, combat aviation is at the beginning of the concept of system of systems. Connectivity between different vectors is already a reality but it is still rather partial and limited: the F4 standard of the Rafale, which prefigures the ultra-connected combat aircraft, is the first to implement satellite communication as standard.

The space domain will play an eminent role in the operational capabilities of the SCAF by providing essential building blocks in the construction of the "system of systems", considering the reactivity, the range and the speed of movement that characterise airborne vectors. Conversely, the SCAF could also contribute to the space domain.

Space has become an essential link in every stage of the operations cycle, from knowing our areas of interest, to assessing our actions against our enemies, to planning and executing our operations. The services provided by space are numerous, such as satellite communications, positioning, navigation, time synchronisation, early warning, meteorology, space surveillance and listening. These capabilities provide a major and differentiating advantage by reducing the uncertainties of combat situations. They provide access to areas that cannot be reached by land, sea and air assets. Space-based monitoring of areas of interest, through observation and listening, contributes to the planning and conduct of operations as well as to national autonomy of situation assessment, by providing information on enemy devices and intentions or by exercising general anticipatory surveillance. It provides assistance in tracking, targeting and engaging the adversary and is a means for Battle Damage Assessment. ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) support provides a better understanding of the situation, especially for alerting units and assessing how friendly forces are disrupting the opponent. In the field of permanent strategic intelligence, it contributes to the knowledge and anticipation of risks and potential threats.

However, space support to future operations requires evolution. The precision required for operations requires reliable, calibrated, updated data distributed in near-real time. Satellite imagery allows the designation of a target but its constraints make it incompatible with real-time on-board exploitation: the frequency of revisits will be an essential parameter to approach permanence.

Protection against new threats such as hyper-velocity missiles will be based on early warning. It will be necessary to detect and characterise launches, to alert as quickly as possible, to assess the impact and to deduce possible countermeasures for the SCAF objects requiring them.

In addition to the length of the new vectors and their very high connectivity, the integration of remotely piloted and/or automated vectors will characterise operations involving the SCAF. Satellite communications allow remote control and communication regardless of geographical constraints. Operational mobility, for vectors using Satcom, is becoming vital, as is the elimination of coverage constraints around the globe and access to frequencies (Ka, Ku, X, or even the use of laser communication). The availability of Satcom resources is becoming critical. It will have to be planned precisely and will require a great deal of robustness (particularly cyber) and resilience. Operating with objects of a very disparate nature requires strong coordination between these objects. Position, navigation and time (PNT) data are already essential and will be even more so tomorrow. It will be necessary to guarantee the use of reliable and integrated location information by the forces in order to better train, plan and conduct their operations (gain in precision and limitation of collateral damage risks). In addition to the coordination of operations, the control of time allows the functioning of information systems and networks in terms of synchronisation and security.

Finally, NavWar will continue to spread, coordinating defensive and offensive actions to secure the use of PNT data for friendly forces and deny it to their adversaries. SCAF objects will therefore not only have to guard against this but potentially play an offensive role in this area. Finally, SCAF systems will be able to provide a tactical support capability to space operations. Thus, the most futuristic approaches imagine the contribution of the SCAF's NGF fighter aircraft to put small, short-lived satellites into orbit by carrying a rocket/missile under its fuselage, thus providing a high level of responsiveness.

Source: Jean-Pascal BRETON | N° 118 - Le Spatial, 1st June 2019

(Jean-Pascal Breton is the AA manager of the SCAF programme).

The Man Machine Teaming project

This project aims to provide the various machine systems with more autonomy and artificial intelligence "in the service of an enlarged and rethought Man-Machine relationship". In this perspective, these intelligent systems would no longer be limited to the simple execution of actions requested by an operator. They would allow collaborative work that would make the operators' actions and decisions more effective and efficient while saving their mental and physical resources.

To do this, these systems would be equipped with increased situational awareness, in particular through various means of perception and analysis (state of the operators, interactions, prediction of the intentions of the actors, tactical combat situations, etc.). This capability would allow systems to learn from the situations encountered, to adapt accordingly and to share relevant information in order to support decision-making and planning by operators. In order to guarantee a high level of performance, which is a guarantee of mission success, this Cognitive Air System would also integrate new interaction methods that are more natural and adapted to the situations encountered by the operators.

In this context, the role of the MMT project is to initialise the identification of technologies likely to be integrated into this Cognitive Air System. In the event that these technologies are not mature enough, MMT's mission is to help develop them. One of the original features of this project is the ambition to carry out these technological developments in collaboration with a French ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs and research organisations already involved in the exploration, use or production of these emerging technologies.

In order to structure this approach, the MMT project is broken down into 6 technological development areas: (I) Virtual Assistant & Smart Cockpit, (II) Interactions, (III) Mission Management, (IV) Smart Sensors, (V) Sensor Services and (VI) Implementation & Support.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
The decision to launch the SCAF programme was initiated by the CFADS resolution of 13 July 2017 by which France and Germany agreed to develop a European air combat system, concretised by the signing of the HLCORD already mentioned and by the announcement of a Dassault/Airbus agreement in principle in April 2018 at the ILA (Berlin International Air Show). It was then announced that France would be the national leader and Dassault the industrial leader of the programme, in return for German leadership on the European MALE UAV and the future battle tank (MGCS).

1. The joint concept study
Germany and France then notified Dassault Aviation and Airbus on 6 February 2019 of a Joint Concept Study (JCS) for 65 million euros.

Conducting such a joint concept study is new compared to the usual logic of armament programmes. The JCS will specify the HLCORD by analysing the different operational levels and translate these into broad technological specifications (aircraft dimensions, number of decoy or saturation UAVs, bandwidths needed to transmit data, etc.), i.e. preferred basic concepts for its main components, i.e. the next-generation fighter aircraft, UAVs, a system of systems and associated next-generation services; it also aims to identify the technological needs and common demonstrators.

The JCS is being conducted by two teams under the control of the DGA acting on behalf of the two states, a French team led by Dassault with MBDA France, Safran Aircraft engines and Safran Électronique et défense, Thales DMS and Thales SIX, and a German team led by Airbus DS with MBDA Germany, Diehl, Hensolt, R&S, MTU and ESG.

The JCS will continue until the first half of 2021. Intermediate results on about ten architectures are expected in summer 2020 and the most promising target architectures will be selected in October and then refined until the end of the study. They will then be fine-tuned according to the results of the demonstrations, until the launch of the project.


2. The organisation in pillars, phase 1A of the demonstrator
a) Why a demonstrator(s)?

It is now planned to carry out one or more demonstrators (demonstrator of the future combat aircraft, ground engine demonstrator, and later, possibly, combat drone demonstrator) by 2025 (or 2026 given the delay due to the length of the Franco-German negotiations in 2019).

The fact of producing a demonstrator is not self-evident. Traditionally, armaments programmes go through a prototyping sequence, which comes at the end of the process. The prototype allows the final adjustments to be made, but it is a device that is almost identical to the one that will be produced. The demonstrator comes into play much earlier in the process and is not a quasi-finished product: it represents the final aircraft in an incomplete way (it is not necessarily to scale 1, nor is it built with the same materials as the final aircraft), emphasising the poorly known aspects that need to be studied in greater depth to avoid errors: in this case, for example, aerodynamics or communication systems. It is also an intermediate step, a validation stage that allows development to be redirected in the right direction if necessary, thus reducing the very large gap between today's technologies and the very advanced technologies that will eventually be implemented. The SCAF demonstrator should thus make it possible to combine the manoeuvrability of the Rafale and the stealth of the Neuron in a single combat aircraft.

According to the programme managers heard by the mission, the same level of confidence in the technologies could not be achieved by using computer simulation alone. Only the demonstrator will make it possible to "deristify" the project by testing the technologies at a reasonable cost, whereas errors can be very costly if they are only discovered when the product is finalised, both for the manufacturers themselves, who would have committed themselves to specifications that they cannot meet, and for the states, which see the programme slipping. Here again, the mistakes of the A400M are often given as an example, but we can also mention the F35, which is currently experiencing problems with its stealth coating at supersonic speed16(*).

b) A delay of several months due to difficulties in the Franco-German negotiations
At the June 2019 Paris Air Show, the French President and the German, French and Spanish Defence Ministers attended the presentation ceremony of the 18-metre-long (scale 1) NGF concept model on the Dassault Aviation stand. Two remote carriers, one manufactured by Airbus and the other by MBDA, were also shown. At the end of the ceremony, several state and industrial framework agreements were signed. The defence ministers of the three countries signed a framework agreement which, among other things, formalised Spain's participation. In parallel, Dassault Aviation and Airbus signed an industrial agreement and submitted a joint industrial offer to the DGA for the initial demonstration phase of the SCAF (phase 1A), scheduled for 2020-2021.

The notification of the demonstrator development contract could not be made at the time of the show due to difficulties on the issue of the industrial organisation for the production of the NGF engine between Safran and MTU (see below). The organisation decided at government level (Safran as leader and MTU as main partner) was challenged by the German players, who contested the leadership of the French engine manufacturer on the grounds that it would have penalised German industry. However, difficult negotiations led to a new agreement in early 2020, with the creation of a Safran/MTU joint venture.

An additional difficulty arose from the link established by members of the Bundestag between the SCAF and the MGCS (see box below), who felt that the place reserved for German industry in the latter project could be improved.

Finally, FMCS, a federation of German manufacturers (including the missile manufacturer Diehl, Hensolt, a former Airbus division specialising in radars and sensors, ESG and Rhode & Schwartz), also wanted to be more involved in the project, considering itself to be disadvantaged by the choice of Airbus as leader in the Remote Carrier and Cloud areas.

c) The 7 pillars of the demonstrator

At the beginning of 2020, the Bundestag finally agreed to the funding of the first R&T contract (phase 1A17(*)) of the programme for an amount of €155 million, financed equally by France and Germany (€77.5 million each; about €90 million for the aircraft, €18 million for the engine, €20 million for the remote carriers, €15 million for the cloud) and lasting 18 months. The framework contract for the launch of this phase 1A was signed in February 2020 by the DGA and the industrialists concerned.

The research and technology (R&T) study provides for an organisation in five pillars, with a leading industrialist and a main industrial partner for each pillar, the latter being more than a 'simple' subcontractor. In 18 months of work, this phase should make it possible to establish the specifications of the demonstrations to come and to justify them on the basis of operational concepts and the technical-operational analyses of the Joint Concept Study.

After the definition of an envelope of requirements common to the countries, this stage has thus made it possible to put in place an essential aspect of the programme: the designation of a genuine industrial prime contractor for each pillar and for the project as a whole. This organisation is designed to take account of past errors and failures, as the countries participating in such a large-scale programme can no longer afford to have costs and schedules drift like the A400M:
  • 1st pillar: NGF fighter aircraft (leader Dassault and main partner Airbus DS);
  • 2nd pillar: Engine (SAFRAN and MTU);
  • 3rd pillar: Remote carriers (Airbus and MBDA);
  • 4th pillar: Tactical or combat cloud (Airbus and Thales);
  • 5th pillar: "simlab", overall coherence (Airbus, Dassault, Safran and MTU, as well as MBDA and Thales as subcontractors);
In addition to these 5 pillars, 2 new pillars will be added in 2020: "sensors" and "stealth".

This organisation of the project aims to respect the "Best Athlete" principle: each company is in charge of the area in which it has already demonstrated its skills during previous programmes (and not the area(s) in which it would like to develop new skills and conquer new markets).

In reality, the organisation thus decided upon is not totally homogeneous from one pillar to another. It varies according to the specific content of each of the agreements signed between the industrialists and also reflects a partly political balance of power:

- As regards, for example, the cooperation between Dassault and Airbus on the first pillar (combat aircraft), it is based on a reference agreement concluded between the two manufacturers in 2018. They agreed on Dassault Aviation's leadership on the NGF part, while Airbus claimed leadership on the "system of systems" aspect, originally understood more as encompassing the project as a whole than as one of the pillars. From now on, in the organisation validated in February 2020, Dassault is therefore the lead partner and Airbus the main partner on the combat aircraft pillar. The two manufacturers set up a virtual platform during the coronavirus crisis, which will become 'physical' in June 2020. The cooperation will be carried out through digital tools shared between France and the Airbus site in Manching, Germany, and calls for tender will be made to the supply chain, with the two manufacturers reporting regularly to the DGA and the German Ministry of Defence.

While the Airbus representatives emphasised their company's long experience in international cooperation programmes, the Dassault representatives referred to the cooperation carried out on the "Neuron" combat drone demonstrator (2012-2015), which brought together six countries and, according to the manufacturer, enabled them to experiment with efficient collaboration thanks to a leadership clearly assumed and accepted by the partners. The Alphajet is also an example of successful cooperation, according to the aircraft manufacturer.

- On the engine pillar, the leader is Safran and the main partner MTU.

The German company MTU is a supplier of engine parts, modules and components to engine manufacturers such as Safran and Pratt & Whitney. It is also active in the maintenance, overhaul and repair of aircraft engines. It is a recognised company that has participated in the creation of many engines (such as the J200 of the Eurofighter Typhoon). Safran has been working with MTU for two decades (Alphajet, A400M, etc): it is a well-known partner and competitor for the engine manufacturer.

A February 2019 letter of intent signed by the two manufacturers specified the division of labour between them. It states that "Safran will have overall responsibility for the design and integration of the engine and MTU Aero Engines will be the leader for services". The partnership provides for a division of roles according to the specialities of each party: Safran will be responsible for the combustor, the high-pressure turbine and the afterburner ("hot" parts), while MTU will be responsible for the low and high-pressure compressors and the low-pressure turbine ("cold" parts). Following negotiations at the end of 2019, it has been decided to create a 50%/50% joint venture company before the end of 2021 to handle the development, production and after-sales support of the new engine. This company will also carry the contracts and draw on the expertise of both parent companies.

- Airbus DS has signed a partnership agreement with MBDA for R&T on the remote carriers pillar. Under this agreement, Airbus DS has a leading position and MBDA is its main partner. MBDA will participate in all tasks, including system architecture. The precise roles of the partners will evolve with the structuring of the remote carrier domain following the system studies (JCS) and initial R&T work. For the time being, it is envisaged that MBDA will focus more on small remote carriers and Airbus on large vehicles and connectivity, based on the "best athlete" principle. ADS and MBDA will use French and German structures from each company. It should be noted that MBDA has direct access to the DGA, the contracting agency. It is therefore a partnership with Airbus DS and not a classic subcontracting.

- On the combat cloud pillar, Thales is the main partner of Airbus Germany, which, as for MBDA, gives it the possibility, under the terms of the agreement with Airbus, to dialogue directly with the DGA.

- On the sensor pillar, FCMS (Hensoldt, Diehl Defence, ESG and Rohde & Schwarz) and Thales were joined by the Spanish company Indra, which will be the lead contractor (the company won out over Airbus Spain to be the national coordinator of the project in Spain).

- As for the "stealth" pillar, little is known about its content. This is a very sensitive area strategically, operationally and industrially. The partners are working on it but sharing is more difficult in this area, at least initially, until the first phases of cooperation have produced sufficient mutual trust.

In this area of stealth, Airbus unveiled on 5 November 2019, on the occasion of its 2019 Trade Media Briefing, the LOUT ("Low Observable UAV Testbed"), an R&T project on stealth, hitherto kept secret and conducted since 2010 on behalf of the German Ministry of Defence. This project consists of a demonstrator housed in an anechoic chamber in Manching, Germany. It is a test bed for testing technologies for reducing radar, infrared, visual and acoustic signatures. Similarly, on 20 February, the Directorate General for Armaments announced the end of a flight test campaign using the Neuron, Dassault's stealth drone demonstrator, with the support of the French armed forces.

While the SCAF programme will obviously have a strong stealth dimension, both in the NGF and in the remote carriers, this should not be its main asset. General Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, said that "it is important to understand that we must be strong in all areas. It is necessary to develop high stealth. This does not mean that we will focus on stealth. If we are better at jamming, saturation and transmission, we will be better in the end than our opponents.

- The "simlab" or "coherence" pillar should make it possible to coordinate all the other pillars so that they can move forward together, even though they require very disparate technologies, notably through end-to-end simulation of all aspects of the project. It is also a pillar where artificial intelligence, which is important in several other pillars, will play a key role.

Although each is led by a lead partner/principal partner pair, each of the pillars also involves many other industrialists in the position of classical subcontractors18(*).

Spain has gradually joined this organisation. Airbus Spain will participate in the NGF pillar and the stealth pillar. Indra, as already indicated, will be the leader in the sensor technology pillar. ITP will work on the motorisation pillar, while a consortium composed of Sener, GMV and Tecnobit should contribute to the "remote carriers" pillar.

The six pillars already defined, to which will be added a "Stealth" pillar:


d) Work is progressing despite the coronavirus crisis
The industrialists have launched the work on phase 1A despite the coronavirus crisis. The project team has also started the next phase, in order to remain in line with the objective of launching a new phase of work in 2021 leading to the demonstrator in 2026.

In parallel, intense work has continued during this phase to complete the integration of the Spanish part. The contracts involving the Spanish industrialists should be signed during July 2020.

3. Ad hoc governance and an innovative organisation of State/industry relations
a) A specific organisation

A specific governance has been set up for the SCAF programme. In France, a working group (GTSCAF) has been set up between the DGA and the air force staff, which works under delegation from the army staff. The DGA intervenes via certain directorates or sub-directorates. At the international level, a project team has been set up under the authority of General Jean-Pascal Breton in Arcueil with, for France, the GTSCAF and counterpart representatives from Spain and Germany, with a programmatic division and an operational division.

The DGA is the contracting agency for the whole project on behalf of all the partners: French, German and Spanish.

Moreover, General Breton stressed during his hearing the need to develop, at the level of state/industry relations, a new systems engineering approach to better "capture the need". To this end, a shared State/industry work environment based on Dassault software has been set up for the first time. End-to-end simulation will also be used for the first time.

The richness and complexity of the project also implies mobilising the creativity of the civilian world, either through the project's industrial leaders or through start-up accelerators. This is the case of the "Man-Machine Teaming" upstream study plan already mentioned.

b) The role of the Defence Innovation Agency
On the French side, the Defence Innovation Agency (AID) will also play an important role through several of its mechanisms. These schemes allow for different degrees of forward planning:

- the "defence technology projects", carried out, after the expression of needs by EMA and DGA, in cooperation with the technical directorate, the operations directorate and the defence system architecture department of DGA. These are the former "front-end studies", allowing the financing of studies to "de-risk" aspects relating to artificial intelligence, materials, stealth, which are known to be necessary in the near future for the project;

- innovation acceleration projects", designed to capture civilian innovation to project further into the future, by developing technologies that are not yet mature today;

- research projects, enabling the development of technologies that do not yet exist, for example in the field of quantum radars or neuro-ergonomics.

- In an even more prospective manner, the new "Red Team" which is being set up by recruiting science fiction authors or futurologists, will be responsible for inventing unpredictable and new political, geopolitical, technological or social environment scenarios in order to "challenge" the AID services and their capacity to adapt to these scenarios.

All these mechanisms have an important role to play in enabling the SCAF to be truly innovative, even revolutionary, in 2040.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
Because of the large number of areas it covers, the technological leaps to be made, the time needed for its development and its nature as an international cooperation project, the SCAF programme is a challenge both for the public authorities and for the industrialists responsible for carrying it out.

All those involved in the project strongly affirm that the SCAF is not a combat aircraft project but a "system of systems" project, of which the aircraft is only one element. This is certainly a central element, but not the most innovative one, since the novelty lies more in what connects and animates the platforms with a view to collaborative combat (the combat cloud, artificial intelligence, but also sensors, etc.) than in the platforms themselves. Moreover, while many other countries have fighter aircraft programmes, very few have such air combat "system of systems" programmes.

In any case, it is important to keep in mind, at every stage of the project, its nature as a "system of systems", whose added value will be linked mainly to its capacity to embody the notion of collaborative combat in a series of innovative platforms and technologies. Furthermore, it is necessary to look well beyond 2040, to 2080: the SCAF should not be obsolete as soon as it is commissioned.

1. Putting artificial intelligence and autonomy capabilities at the heart of SCAF development
The HLCORD, the single statement of requirement for the SCAF, foresees that the NGF (next generation fighter) will either have a pilot on board or will be "optionally" piloted.

For the moment, as already mentioned, the role of drones and remote carriers, however important, is conceived as subordinate to the NGF, which will, in principle, be manned. For the most advanced of these UAVs, the model is that of the "Loyal Wingman", i.e. a UAV that accompanies or precedes manned combat aircraft to perform a variety of tasks: strike, surveillance, electronic attack, decoying or even battle damage assessment.

Russia (Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B) and the United States (Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie under a programme launched in July 2016, the "Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration; "The United Kingdom ("Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft" with, initially, the award of three initial design contracts to Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing Defence UK and Callen-Lenz) are developing such "loyal wingman" programmes.

Considered as an effector or remote sensor, the loyal wingman must remain under the control of the aircraft being flown.

Indeed, the possibility of flying a drone alone, without being accompanied by a piloted aircraft, comes up against the fragility of the satellite data link, which can be hacked or jammed, in the case of contested areas19(*) . The drone would then become uncontrollable. By remaining integrated into the formation led by the piloted aircraft, the UAV can benefit from a local network, which is also susceptible to jamming but is still more resilient.

However, even in this situation, artificial intelligence is fully required, in order to relieve the pilots of the simplest tasks, to assist in decision making, or not to lose the drones in the event of a data link failure.

The United States is accelerating the use of artificial intelligence to support the piloted fighter aircraft. The AI is then implanted in a loyal wingman, in a fighter transformed into a drone or directly in the cockpit of the piloted aircraft. For example, the Skyborg programme is looking at the possibility of having an in-board piloted fighter (which in this case could be an F35 or the new upgraded F15EX) + a wingman, a drone with artificial intelligence, which could be an XQ-58 Valkyrie.

Furthermore, one way of getting round the difficulty of long-distance data links is to envisage a totally autonomous drone, therefore not dependent on this data link. However, two questions arise in this case:

- an ethical/legal issue (see Problems posed by autonomous lethal weapon systems (SALA)).

On 5 April 2019 at the DATA IA Institute in Saclay, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly presented the new strategy on artificial intelligence and defence. During this presentation, she mentioned the ethical and legal dimension by stating that "France refuses to entrust the decision of life or death to a machine that would act in a fully autonomous way and escape any human control. Such systems are fundamentally contrary to all our principles. They have no operational interest for a State whose armies respect international law, and we will not deploy them?20(*)" The Minister added: "We will develop artificial intelligence for defence according to three main principles: respect for international law, the maintenance of sufficient human control, and the permanence of command responsibility. 21(*)"

It should be noted, however, that one of the Minister's arguments is that artificial intelligence could actually contribute to a better application of international humanitarian law: "I would cite, for example, the proportionality of the response, discrimination between combatants and non-combatants, and the minimisation of collateral damage. Artificial intelligence will not move any of these lines. On the contrary, artificial intelligence will enable us to continue to respect them in the conflicts of tomorrow.

Furthermore, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has set up a Defence Ethics Committee, which has been tasked by the Minister to reflect on the initial guidelines for the application of artificial intelligence to weapons systems by the summer of 2020.

Finally, the ethical and legal question continues to be the subject of international discussions, which do not, however, seem to be yielding any major results for the moment.

-The question of tactical effectiveness.
Some believe that AI would be unable to be more effective than humans in an environment highly contested by sophisticated denial of access systems, or more generally in a situation of "tactical fluidity" where there are many choices and decisions to be made.

In her speech, the Minister of the Armed Forces warns of the potential fragility of AI: "The manipulation of learning data, cognitive biases transmitted by humans to algorithms, systems disoriented and put at fault by a simple piece of tape, systems that can be hacked remotely: the risk factors that we must assess and control from the design stage are extremely numerous.

However, these difficulties, which are real, could be largely overcome by 2040. Recall that in 2016, veteran Airforce instructor Gene Lee could not win a single air combat simulation victory against the artificial intelligence "Alpha", which was implemented in an inexpensive computer with modest power. In a similar vein, a project at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) aims to have an AI-powered drone (possibly an F16 at first) fighting a manned fighter by July 2021. This project echoes a statement by Tesla CEO Elon Musk that an AI-powered fighter would beat a manned fighter without difficulty22(*).

Those involved in the SCAF project are well aware that one of the challenges they face is the integration of 1) human-driven systems on board aircraft, 2) remotely piloted systems, and 3) autonomous systems. This is one of the main issues of the SCAF and one of the main research topics for the project partners, and it will have to be possible to vary to some extent the proportion of these three elements in the "finished product" according to the needs that will arise from 2040 onwards and in the decades that will follow.

Indeed, the choice of AI is not between its presence or absence: it is a question of degree. When a missile arrives at mach 4 on the plane, the pilot does not have time to make a decision. The reaction is necessarily automated, a bit like when the ABS takes control of the car's brakes when the driver brakes hard before the obstacle. In this case, there is no need for humans to be 'in the loop'. The position defended by the Ministry of the Armed Forces and shared by the mission is that man is in the overall loop: a machine can be autonomous but it cannot invent a mission for itself or modify it without asking a human being for authorisation. Humans must therefore retain command responsibility and be able to respect international humanitarian law. Many tasks of self-protection, automatic target designation or global trajectory calculation can be automated without violating these three principles, which, according to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, do not usually appear as self-limitations.

In any case, AI will at least have a prominent role within the SCAF to assist pilots within the system formed by the NGWS. It therefore seems necessary to continue to invest massively in artificial intelligence because the SCAF will necessarily make extensive use of it, although this cannot be accurately predicted today. It is therefore to be welcomed, in addition to the elaboration of the strategy of the Ministry of the Armed Forces on artificial intelligence already mentioned23(*), that the Minister of the Armed Forces declared in her speech already quoted that: "The French Armed Forces are investing and will invest in artificial intelligence, it is obvious" and announced an investment of 100 million euros per year from 2019 to 2025 for AI. The minister mentions six priority areas of investment in this area, including collaborative combat.

Given the accelerated development of this technology by our adversaries, we must be prepared to fight back in the future against countries that do not always respect the ethical and legal standards that France and its allies respect and wish to continue to respect. Without such preparation, the French army could find itself in the situation of Gene Lee, or the best chess player in the world, who, according to general opinion, could not win a single game today against an artificial intelligence. At the same time, international discussions must be pursued to ensure that a clear legal framework emerges for these issues that is consistent with our ethics and the principles of international humanitarian law.

Proposal: Consider artificial intelligence as a "transversal pillar" of the SCAF that needs to be developed with the broadest possible scope of application.

Relaunch international discussions on autonomous lethal weapons systems (ALWS) in order to arrive at a clear legal framework that is consistent with ethics and the principles of international humanitarian law.

2. The crucial importance of data links and combat cloud and sensor pillars
Data links, whether they are high-speed intra-patrol links, high-speed satellite links, or optical links, and their security and resilience to cyber attacks and jamming, will be essential. The information superiority enabled by the cloud will thus enable decision superiority.

Furthermore, it is imperative that the scope of the cloud is as broad as possible, and therefore includes land and naval forces. Close air support, for example, will have to be connected with land and naval artillery. This implies, in particular, dealing with the integration of the SCAF tactical cloud and the new SCORPION command information system (SICS), an information and command system from the combat vehicle to the regiment, which allows the automatic exchange of data and alerts up to the level of the dismounted group leader and optimises fire support requests.

All in all, the "added value" of the SCAF probably lies as much if not more in the combat cloud, connectivity and interoperability architecture as in the combat aircraft and its engine. It is not impossible to draw an analogy with the parallel evolution of the automobile if the autonomous car continues to develop: the software part, the links and the cloud will probably have more added value than the car itself. This is why the "Combat Cloud" pillar, as well as the future "sensors" pillar, led by Airbus and Indra respectively, must be followed with the utmost attention. In particular, the "Combat Cloud" pillar must allow Thales and all its defence electronics subcontractors to make a central and essential contribution to the SCAF.

Proposal: consider the "combat cloud" pillar as a priority at the same level as the aircraft and the engine.

Prepare as of now the integration of the SCAF combat cloud with the Scorpion information and command system (CIS)

3. Which engine for the demonstrator?

The demonstrator for the new engine will not be available before 2027, while the aircraft demonstrator will have to fly in 2025 or 2026. It is therefore planned that the demonstrator will be equipped with an upgraded version of the M88, until it can be replaced by a demonstration version of the new engine.

However, even this improved version may not be sufficient to animate a full-scale demonstrator. A 0.8 scale demonstrator, for example, could overcome this problem. If the latter option is not chosen, the demonstrator could use an engine already on the market. However, this last solution would represent a risk for Safran's participation in the rest of the programme. The Eurofighter J200, which could then be chosen, is manufactured by a consortium including Rolls-Royce (a potential competitor with the Tempest), Avio, ITP and MTU Aero Engines. When asked about this, Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, said that an upgraded version of the M88 remained the main option under consideration. This solution, in line with the initial industrial agreement, is also preferred by the mission.

Proposal: Equip the demonstrator planned for 2026 with the M88 engine (Rafale engine) or an evolution of it, and make the necessary investments to this end.

4. The environmental dimension
Environmental protection is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of combat aviation, a field of very high performance, which often goes hand in hand with maximum energy consumption. The primary objective of the SCAF is to outperform potential adversaries. Furthermore, the NGF will most likely be larger and heavier than the Rafale, which means that it will consume more fuel. The comparison is not entirely valid, however, since one should compare the fuel consumption of a current formation of Rafales with the consumption of an NGWS formation, which will have as many or more platforms (taking into account the remote carriers) but probably fewer combat aircraft.

However, looking resolutely beyond 2040 and into the 2080s requires us to consider, for example, a possible reduction in energy abundance, the need to improve energy independence, or the extension of certain standards, which will have been developed for civil aviation, to military aviation.

This concern is already taken into account by the Ministry of Defence. Emmanuel Chiva, Director of the Defence Innovation Agency, has indicated24(*) that "energy and the environment are research topics in their own right. Specific research work on hydrogen is underway, including a hydrogen station project for UAVs (...) The AID is aware of the climate issues and is involved in the same way as the entire ministry".

Furthermore, on 3 July 2020, the Minister of the Armed Forces presented the ministry's energy strategy, which provides for energy saving efforts in all areas, in order to reduce the armies' energy bill, with the objective of reducing their dependence on oil supplies, which sometimes rely on uncertain maritime routes.

Finally, in the aeronautical field, studies are already underway on the use of biofuels. In December 2017, the Airbus, Air France, Safran, Total and Suez Environnement groups signed a commitment for green growth (ECV) on aeronautical biofuels with the State. The aim is to introduce a dose of biofuels with paraffin. These biofuels will be able to meet the requirements of military aviation25(*). In addition, work is being carried out to save the electrical power needed in aircraft.

As with other defence programmes, it would seem necessary to take this aspect into account from the outset of the SCAF project.

Proposal: While aiming for the highest possible performance, integrate environmental concerns from the outset of the SCAF programme.
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Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
Problems with autonomous lethal weapon systems (ALWS)

In the case of today's armed UAVs, the choice of target and the firing of the weapon are always made by one or more human operators. It is this notion of "man in the loop" that justifies the drone ultimately being subject to the same legal framework as other weapon systems.

On the other hand, "autonomous lethal weapon systems" (ALWS), which do not yet exist but are the subject of scientific and military research, pose legal and ethical problems on a completely different scale.

For example, some fear that the risk of armed conflict and the use of military violence will be increased by the deployment of truly autonomous systems: ALWS would make it possible to eliminate the psychological barriers to the use of lethal force, which is not the case for drones, which are still piloted by a human being (hence the post-traumatic syndrome sometimes observed in drone pilots).

There are also doubts about the ability of ALWS to respect the principles of international humanitarian law (or the law of conflict). Because of these concerns, a European Parliament resolution calls for a ban on the development of ALWS.

Indeed, Article 36 of the First Protocol to the Geneva Convention provides that the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon may only take place after it has been determined whether it would be contrary to the Protocol or to another rule of international law.

Specifically, compliance with the main principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) (distinction between combatants and civilians, proportionality and minimisation of collateral damage, precaution) requires the application of judgemental capacities that are currently limited to human beings. For example, in some environments, it is very difficult to distinguish between civilians and military personnel. It may be necessary to analyse a person's behaviour and decide whether that behaviour is somehow 'good' or 'bad'. It seems unlikely that algorithms will be able to make such a judgment. Conversely, some legal experts point to the risk that human soldiers will violate IHL principles under fear and stress, emotions that ALWS will not be susceptible to. However, to consider that the existing rules are sufficient because robots will be able to respect them better than humans is to assume that the fact that a human kills or a robot kills is ethically equivalent. On the contrary, the development of autonomous systems can be seen as a paradigm shift that imposes new rules, as IHL was invented to be applied by human beings.

Moreover, since robots will not be feared (or less feared) for their lives, one could imagine that they will eventually be subject to much stricter rules of force than humans: for example, that a person would have to display a weapon or be unequivocally aggressive in order to be considered a combatant and could become a target, or that the robot would have the power to incapacitate its human target, but not to kill it.

In 2014, the first informal meeting of experts on ALWS within the framework of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was held in Geneva, initiated and chaired by France. The third edition took place in April 2016 in the presence of 95 States, the ICRC, numerous NGOs and experts. At these meetings, the French representation committed to developing or using ALWS "only if these systems demonstrate their full compliance with international law". However, it also considered that any pre-emptive ban on the development of ALWS would be premature. As the debate focused on the "meaningful human control" to which ALWS should be subject, the term "appropriate human involvement", which was somewhat vague but acceptable to all participants, was adopted at the initiative of the German delegation. Finally, some participants questioned the coherence of the ALWS concept itself: for the armed forces, does total autonomy and the absence of a link with a human operator not run counter to the overriding need for operational control by the military command?

In any case, these discussions in a multilateral framework have led to the creation of a governmental group of experts. The work of this group of experts could lead to the development of a code of conduct and good practice on ALWS. According to some experts, such a code could possibly include:
  • the limitation of the use of ALWS to military objectives by nature (and not by location, destination or use) and to certain contexts (non-urban and sparsely populated environments), and only in cases where humans cannot take the decision themselves (subsidiarity);
  • reversibility of the autonomous mode;
  • the programming of the "benefit of the doubt" within the ALWS;
  • the recording of ALWS actions;
  • IHL training for ALWS operators.


Senior Member
Nov 30, 2017
Furthermore, it is necessary to look well beyond 2040, to 2080: the SCAF should not be obsolete as soon as it is commissioned.

This should be the biggest fear for FCAS. Because it's not necessary that a 2040 deadline will be met. It could go the F-35 way.

We shouldn't end up with endless discussions on AMCA vs FCAS.

- an ethical/legal issue (see Problems posed by autonomous lethal weapon systems (SALA)).

On 5 April 2019 at the DATA IA Institute in Saclay, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly presented the new strategy on artificial intelligence and defence. During this presentation, she mentioned the ethical and legal dimension by stating that "France refuses to entrust the decision of life or death to a machine that would act in a fully autonomous way and escape any human control. Such systems are fundamentally contrary to all our principles. They have no operational interest for a State whose armies respect international law, and we will not deploy them?20(*)" The Minister added: "We will develop artificial intelligence for defence according to three main principles: respect for international law, the maintenance of sufficient human control, and the permanence of command responsibility. 21(*)"

This will be a major problem. People should come to the realisation that AI can be more ethical than a human. Plus it can find ways to win a war with the least amount of body count.

Proposal: Equip the demonstrator planned for 2026 with the M88 engine (Rafale engine) or an evolution of it, and make the necessary investments to this end.

Would be great to see if it can become an engine option for AMCA.


Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
Would be great to see if it can become an engine option for AMCA.
Couldn't AMCA be the demonstrator of the SCAF NGF? It could receive constructive criticism from Dassault who know how to make airframes lighter while improving their aerodynamics and strength. The final NGF would probably have a new variable cycle engine and more advanced on-board systems with new capabilities.