PARIS – The air force chiefs representing the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) partner nations took a step toward establishing a synergistic concept of air warfare on June 21, signing a joint document outlining the path ahead as the trinational program moves forward to a new phase.

French Air and Space Force Chief of Staff Gen. Stéphane Mille, German Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz and Spanish Air and Space Force Chief of Staff Gen. Javier Salto Martínez-Avial signed a “collaborative air combat” document Wednesday morning in a small ceremony during the biennial Paris Air Show here.

French Air Force Gen. Jean-Luc Moritz, the service’s FCAS director, described the document as “a common operational vision” highlighting the main requirements and challenges to design a “next-generation warfare system fit for this future collaborative combat.”

France and Germany first launched the FCAS program in 2017, and Spain joined as an equal partner in 2020. The endeavor aims to deliver a wide gamut of cutting-edge aerospace technologies to the three air forces by roughly 2040.

While the new air warfare doctrine itself is not yet publicly available, Moritz explained its key tenets.

The warplane thrust of the FCAS program – considered the cornerstone of the future system-of-systems – will henceforth be designated as a “command fighter” aircraft, meaning “a standalone combat capability providing the ability to control unmanned components and to command other combat aircraft, being able to perform C2 [command-and-control] functions,” he said.

The new name denotes how both the “command” and “fighter” elements are equally important, Moritz said. On the command side, the aircraft will employ artificial intelligence (AI) and data link technologies to allow pilots to also perform battlefield management functions while in the air. Meanwhile, the aircraft will also need to act as a traditional fighter to survive future threat environments.

“A balanced command fighter is what we need,” Moritz said.

When it comes to drones accompanying the envisioned aircraft, the collaborative air warfare doctrine will use “swarming and teaming” tactics alongside artificial intelligence to create unpredictability for the adversary, according to Moritz.

Meanwhile, the program’s combat cloud pillar will be “the main challenge” of the project, he added. “Mesh, redundant, and heterogeneous networks between any contributors of the Collaborative Air Warfare must avoid any single point of failure,” said Moritz. Key requirements includes the ability to withstand communications jamming, a high level of discretion and dynamic cybersecurity practices.

Notably, Belgian Air Chief Maj. Gen. Thierry Dupont was also present at the signing ceremony, although he did not sign the document himself. Belgium has formally joined the FCAS program in an “observer status” for the time being. 

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.

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