Europe’s joint sixth-generation fighter jet program has now been split into two projects called Tempest and Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the real race has begun.
As a reminder that Tempest, which has changed its name to the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), is now led by the UK, Italy and Japan, and may include Sweden and even Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the FCAS project is from France, Germany and Spain.
The success of each new generation machine will depend on which side puts its fighter into mass production first. Especially when the projects compete not only with each other, but also with America’s Next Generation Air Dominance Platform (NGAD), with the maximum probability of becoming the first fighter of the sixth generation. And that is why it is extremely important for the Tempest (GCAP) to pass FCAS, because without the export potential, the development of a new generation of combat aircraft will not be feasible because of the issue of cost.
But BAE Systems – the main implementing unit of the GCAP project is quite calm about this fact. According to project leader Herman Klasen, the plan to put the first Tempests into service is in 2035, while the first flight will take place in 2028.
For the FCAS project, in 2021, the first flight was scheduled for 2026, but in February 2023, Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier moved the deadline to 2029 and the full operation time will be 2040. According to Dassault Aviation, the project is progressing slower than expected. And one of the reasons is the division of roles in the implementation of the program to create the future fighter.
We are talking about a “pie” costing 100 billion euros, the rivalry is going on mainly between Dassault and Airbus, as both want to be “primary partners” and not just “supplier”. In this situation, the Tempest project seems more favorable because BAE Systems – objectively, looks like a technical leader that governs the entire program. According to the head of the GCAP program, Herman Klasen, the interaction between all project participants shows “activeness and willingness to work with intensity”.
It seems that while the European continent is deciding which is the most important project, Tempest might actually take off sooner. The success of the fighter in the export sector will depend on this. Experience in the international market proves that the gap for new weapons must be filled as soon as possible. According to BAE Systems, in addition to basic customers, they expect Tempest to be sold in quantities of several hundred units around the world. And in terms of competition not only with FCAS but also with the US NGAD, this indicator can be considered quite important.
The market for sixth-generation aircraft is actually quite limited, because now most countries are increasing the combat potential of their air forces by ordering the F-35. By the 2040s, these F-35s are only entering the “middle age”, because their total useful life is expected to be until the 2080s. As a result, a significant number of potential customers could choose the proven and popular F-35 at the time, instead of placing their trust in the unknown sixth-generation fighter like Tempest or FCAS.