Can we save the European SCAF next-generation fighter program?

Announced in 2017 by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the SCAF program for Future Air Combat System aims to develop, by 2040, a new generation combat aircraft (the 6th at the last count), the Next Generation Fighter, as well as a a set of systems designed to provide the aircraft with unparalleled operational capabilities. Since its launch, the program has found itself on several occasions faced with major difficulties, whether related to political arbitration and in particular to the requirements of the German Bundestag, to the difficult industrial sharing between the 3 participating countries (Germany, France and Spain) and the conceptual and doctrinal differences between the armed forces of the 3 countries. However, the SCAF had never found itself faced with an impasse such as the one that strikes it today, when the CEO of Dassault Aviation announced that he no longer intended to negotiate with Airbus DS on the subject of the first pillar. of the NGF program, and that he was now waiting for a political arbitration to continue the program, knowing that the difficulties already encountered had already postponed the entry into service of the device by 5 to 10 years.

By choosing this position, Dassault Aviation clearly signifies that it is now up to Emmanuel Macron, initiator of the program, to induce Berlin, the Bundestag and Airbus DS to waive their co-piloting requirements of the first pillar, failing which Dassault Aviation would withdraw from the program, knowing that with its well-filled order book after the recent international successes of the Rafale, and its capital autonomy vis-à-vis the State, the French aeronautical group has much more time to wait than 'Emmanuel Macron, that the French Air Force and Naval Aeronautics. However, this fierce showdown that is taking place is only the final consequence of a program marked by major differences, in particular between Paris and Berlin, at the origin of a climate of mutual suspicion between the two partners, and more and more firm and incompatible postures promising the SCAF to a dark destiny; one more we would be tempted to say that the list of aborted or stillborn European defense cooperation programs is so long.

The export success of the Rafale puts Dassault Aviation in a strong position in negotiations with the Elysée and with Germany

Under these conditions, it seems difficult to imagine a future for this program. It is true that on the simple analysis of the deep divergences and the antagonisms which have emerged in recent years around this one, the solutions which would make it possible to refound the SCAF on sounder bases are far from being obvious. However, once we study the very causes of these impasses, a solution could emerge. Indeed, rather than trying to force cooperation between manufacturers on unstable and ill-defined bases, it would be much more effective to focus attention on their causes, in this case the deep divergences between the expectations of Berlin and its Luftwaffe, and Paris, its Air and Space Force, and its Aéronavale, namely that Germany intends above all to develop a successor to the Typhoon, a high-performance air superiority fighter capable of fly high and fast, while for France, it is a question of replacing the Rafale, a multi-purpose fighter on board capable of carrying out deep nuclear strikes. A superficial reading of these two specifications could conclude that they are incompatible. However, this would quickly forget that a combat aircraft is not just an airframe, but a system of systems, and that these two needs can be based on many common systems. In other words, to save SCAF, it would be necessary to move from a program based on a system of systems, to a Program of programs sharing a common system of systems.


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