STUTTGART, Germany — In 2019, Spain signed onto the Franco-German Future Combat Air System program to develop a fighter jet, weapons and drones by 2040. Airbus is playing a lead role in the developing phase, and its Spanish subsidiary is the prime contractor for the stealth technology pillar as well as Madrid’s main industry partner on the next-gen fighter.
Defense News talked about the program with Miguel Angel Morin Martín, head of FCAS efforts at Airbus Spain.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What work are you performing on the FCAS program? What will take place by the end of Phase 1B?
Airbus is supporting the Spanish Defence Ministry in the system of systems operational definition as well as acting as prime of the Spanish industry in the development of the new-generation fighter demonstrator. Moreover, Airbus is the international leader of the enhanced low-observability technologies initiative. Finally, we are also supporting the other industries involved in the rest of the pillars thanks to unique know-how and expertise.
Phase 1B is focused on selecting the architecture of the demonstrators, validating technology road maps and starting the decision processes up to when the preliminary design review is achieved. In parallel, the overall demonstrator and development logic will be further elaborated.
How are you working with your colleagues at Airbus and the rest of the Spanish industry group to stay on schedule for this program?
Our process, standards and tools are available to ensure that the objectives on time, cost and quality are achieved. As an aerospace company with facilities in Spain, Airbus is already used to working with the rest of the Spanish industry, which is integrated in its supply chain.
What is the plan for the enhanced low-observability technologies pillar, which Airbus Spain mostly leads?
The ELOT pillar aims to provide a significant leap from the current state-of-the-art solutions by working on innovative and disruptive low-observability technologies with a holistic approach; that is, by considering all LO critical elements in the FCAS platforms and all different LO aspects impacting them (multispectrum approach including radar, infrared, visual and aural signatures). ELOT will pay attention to future threats by taking into account the evolution of sensors and effectors, and new scenarios in which those threats are coming from space.
Despite relevant efforts performed by FCAS nations on this field, there is limited experience in Europe regarding the integration of very low-observable, or VLO, tech in operational assets. Manufacturing techniques must be analyzed to cope with the complexity of managing those technologies within the production chain. In-service and logistics aspects must be introduced in the loop since we know the impact VLO can have on maintenance and fleet availability.
We started the identification of those key technologies, for which we intend to follow on with an engineering process. The level of ambition is high; our goal is to make the FCAS an ELOT reference among the sixth-generation air systems.
Which elements of the program benefit from extra stealthy features?
For the ground demonstrator for the new-generation fighter, we are actually looking into LO features. With regard to drones, we need to balance some key requirements related to cost and prioritizing the development of manned-unmanned teaming with the possibility to offer a low-observable performance.
What are some capability trade-offs when it comes to incorporating ELOT features into the program?
As we are still in the research and development phase, main topics under consideration are technological developments and its feasibility in relation to the development of operational needs. It is still early to comment or disclose further details on this topic.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.