N ° 8 Top 2021: SCAF, MGCS… Will the new European military equipment arrive too late?

Article from November 29, 2021, N ° 8 of the TOP 2021 with 32.000 unique reads

Dance an interview given to the lesecho.fr website, Franck Haun, the CEO of the KNDS group which brings together the German Krauss Maffei Wegman and the French Nexter, called on the French and German governments to accelerate the program Main Ground Combat System or MGCS, which according to him, should not at the current rate of things, not reach a delivery before 2040 and even 2045. If the considerations of Franck Haun are above all industrial, calling in particular to expand the program on the European scene, it remains nonetheless true that an objective analysis of the calendars of current programs, MGCS like SCAF, the new generation combat aircraft program that brings together France, Germany and Spain, and which also does not foresee an operational entry before 2040, shows that they no longer correspond to future needs armies, nor to the world industrial and technological rhythm which has been strongly upset in recent years by Russia and China.

Indeed, even as international tensions continue to grow, with deadlines for potential conflict in the medium and even short term, both Moscow and Beijing have profoundly changed the tempo but also the very purpose of the military programs in progress. Thus, for Moscow, Su-57 fighter aircraft, S70 Ohnotnik B heavy combat drone or the new generation of armored vehicles bringing together the heavy tracked armored vehicles of the Armata family, medium tracked armored vehicles of the Kurganet family, and the medium armored vehicles on wheels of the Bumerang family, all are designed to enter service in the next few years, even though work on a new generation of combat aircraft and armored vehicles by 2040 is already underway. The same is true in China, with the 20th generation J-35 and J-5 fighter planes, and armored vehicles being equipped such as the Type-99A or the Type-15, themselves also to be replaced by a new generation of equipment by 2040.

The T-14 Armata battle tank is due to enter service in 2023 with the Russian armed forces, and offers capabilities at least equivalent, and often significantly superior, to those of the best Western tanks in service.

However, neither the Rafale and Typhoon fighter jets, nor the Leclerc or Leopard 2 heavy tanks, whatever their planned degree of modernization, are or will not be able to take the technological ascendancy over the Su-57, J-35 and other Armata, which will leave, in a perfectly predictable way, the European armies in a situation of severe operational inferiority during the two decades to come, outclassed numerically and without notable technological advantage, vis-a-vis the Russian forces, Chinese, but also those which they could. equip in the form of proxy. Under these conditions, the question posed in the title, namely whether the MGCS and SCAF programs, but also all the European defense programs, will arrive too late, seems to find an obvious answer.

But the implications of this delay are likely to go well beyond a period of vulnerability of ten or fifteen years. Indeed, Beijing, Moscow, but also Washington, seem to have integrated the profound change in the technological tempo of defense equipment, in a new form of Cold War which has obviously not yet been assimilated by European leaders. Indeed, the current programs in these countries all have relatively short-term objectives, while anticipating a new generation of materials in the medium term. This implies that the generational lifespan of this new equipment has increased, conceptually, from the 30 to 40 years which was the norm during the post-cold war period, for a period of 15 to 20 years, the same as that which prevailed at the end of the Cold War.

The Rafale was designed to gain the upper hand over the Flanker family aircraft, but it will at best be able to compete with the Su-57 and the new Chinese aircraft.

This new tempo implies that over a period of 40 years, i.e. the operational lifespan envisaged (at a minimum) for the MGCS and SCAF programs beyond the 20 years of design, the Russian, Chinese and American will have, for their part, developed two or even three generations of equipment, offering much better adaptability to integrate new technologies but also new operational needs that will have emerged from commitments and conflicts. These upheavals are already influencing the sizing but also the current industrial methodology in these three countries, even though the European countries remain desperately clinging to a design inherited from the last 30 years of the programs, with a vision based on the industrial replacement of equipment, and not on the evolution of technologies and military doctrines in the world.

Demonstration of Nexter's Salamander cloaking system published as part of FIS2021

For the Europeans, this is in no way a lack of technological skills. The last Defense Innovation Days organized by the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Defense Innovation Agency have thus shown that French manufacturers already have very advanced technologies, capable of giving new national equipment remarkable and even decisive operational capacities. on the battlefield, in particular to regain the technological ascendancy over their potential adversaries. This is the case in particular with the SALAMANDER cloaking system (optical and infrared concealment) presented by Nexter, capable of erasing an armored vehicle from the visual and electro-optical fields, from the 140mm ASCALON barrel offered by the same Nexter, or from the electric gun program currently being studied at ISL. By digging further, other systems such as the Shark active protection technology for armored vehicles, developed in advance in 2008 by Thales, or the NEURON program from Dassault Aviation, constitute as many technological bases likely to provide immediate answers or in the short term, to develop the capabilities essential to bring the French Armies to the operational level required in 2030.

The Neuron program has enabled Dassault Aviation to accumulate significant know-how in the field of stealth combat drones, know-how not yet exploited to meet the needs of armies in the short and medium term.

Obviously, therefore, it is now as essential as it is urgent to review the timetables, but also the ambitions and the underlying industrial and technological philosophy of the programs underway in Europe, and in France in particular. Otherwise, not only will the French and European armies be irreparably condemned to decommissioning, and this in the short term in a period of less than 10 years, but the defense industry of the old continent will also be condemned to see its market share decline. reduce, and therefore in the medium term, to perish, thereby digging the grave of all ambitions for strategic autonomy, whether national or European. And to realize, and to admit at the highest level of States, that the management of defense programs today should no longer be based on industrial load considerations, nor on aspects of fleet or fleet optimization. equipment of the armies, but indeed on the technological tempo given by the 3 world superpowers, from which the Europeans are moving further and further away.

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