COLOGNE, Germany – NATO’s top general in Europe says alliance members developing sixth-generation military aircraft should ensure their plans are in sync to avoid duplication.

Member nation’s need to compare notes about the resources needed to see the respective plans through, explained U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters at a June 9 event hosted by the Atlantic Council. He stressed the objective of “strategic transparency and alignment” as nations craft their future defense plans, including developments of futuristic aerial weapons in the United States and Europe.

“Those activities are ongoing, and I’m very excited about what is happening in that dimension,” Wolters said.

There are three major thrusts underway within NATO to develop sixth-generation aircraft, though it’s still an open question how closely those weapons will ultimately resemble traditional planes. The U.S. program goes by the name Next Generation Air Dominance; the British are working on the Tempest; and France, Germany and Spain have the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, in store. All of those efforts include separate activities aimed at fielding new drones, weapons, sensors and command-and-control architectures.

Wolters’ comments echo a sense of common purpose in defense among Western allies that sometimes gets lost in defense-industrial infighting. In Europe, top political leaders in France and Germany have had to mask serious working-level FCAS disagreements with rosy talk about the Franco-German defense partnership. All the while, the British Tempest program is proceeding in parallel despite widespread acknowledgment that Europe cannot support two such developments in the long run.

While the sixth-generation air weapons are still years away, Wolters said the American fifth-generation F-35 jets have yet to reach their full potential in fusing customer nations’ military capabilities. Notably, he described the aircraft’s battle-support features — like early-warning and command-and-control — rather than the jets’ advertised combat or stealth prowess as the decisive force multiplier across national air forces. Wolters predicted European users would field a combined 450 F-35s by 2030.

“With each passing day we’re finding better ways to unite nations that possess F-35s to improve our speed and posture in the air domain,” he said.

Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.

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