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    Europe’s Pursuit of Aerial Dominance: Unveiling the Sixth-Generation Fighter Jets

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    In the quest for aerial dominance in future combat, Europe is sharpening its defense strategies by developing two sixth-generation fighter jets.

    Touted as the future backbone of European air defense, these two distinct programs – the UK-led FCAS and the Franco-German-Spanish SCAF – are shaping a new horizon in combat aviation.

    The UK’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS), now known as the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), is a collaborative project involving the UK, Italy, and Japan, with the goal of introducing a sixth-generation fighter by 2035.

    Initially proposed by the UK in 2015 as the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative, this initiative has expanded internationally. The unveiling of the key concept aircraft, Tempest, took place in 2018 at the Farnborough Airshow.

    A significant milestone was reached in December 2022 with the formalization of collaboration through an international treaty among the three nations, merging the UK’s Tempest and Japan’s Mitsubishi F-X projects into a unified and innovative endeavor.

    The motivation behind Italy joining the UK-led effort was made clear by Italy’s Air Force Chief of Staff Luca Goretti, when he said that Italy could play a bigger role in the project compared to the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS program, according to Reuters.

    This sentiment exemplifies the collaborative spirit aiming to harness the strengths of each contributing nation. As GCAP progresses, a “core platform concept” is scheduled for release in 2025, with partners keen to embrace new participants, enhancing the program’s scope and knowledge.

    Across the channel, France, Germany, and Spain are engaged in their sixth-generation endeavor, the Système de combat aérien du futur (SCAF).

    This program too strives to revolutionize the skies with a next-generation weapon system encompassing new fighters, remote carriers, and an advanced Air Combat Cloud network.

    Despite initial challenges such as workshare disputes and IP rights issues, the Franco-German-Spanish project is moving forward with its demonstrator phase. The NGF prototype is set to fly in 2029, with full operational deployment expected by 2040.

    The journey of both programs has been marked by international politics, strategic partnerships, and a race to harness cutting-edge technologies.

    Darling mentioned that the division between France and Germany has probably delayed the Future Combat Air System by at least a year, and there will also be the typical challenges that international fighter jet development programs face.

    The UK’s GCAP has made smoother progress with Italy and Japan as key partners, with Japan significantly boosting the project through its economic power and advancements in stealth jet technology. In contrast, SCAF has encountered a more challenging journey, as France, Germany, and Spain have only recently settled significant disputes to advance the program’s development.

    The possibility of Germany’s interest in GCAP could suggest a future merger, consolidating European efforts into a unified sixth-generation combat system.

    This merger would combine various advanced technologies like remote piloting, virtual ‘avatar’ co-pilots, advanced radar systems, and the capability to deploy drone swarms.

    Relevant articles:
    FCAS? SCAF? Tempest? Explaining Europe’s sixth, Breaking Defense, Jun 16, 2023
    Gen Jet Fighter Makes Little Progress in Four Years, National Defense Magazine, Jun 20, 2023
    Could Europe’s Two Stealth 6th Generation Fighter Programs Merge?, The National Interest, Feb 1, 2024
    UK, Japan, and Italy team up to build 6th-Gen fighter plane, New Atlas, Dec 17, 2023

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