It seems that Britain and France are getting closer to signing a deal to jointly develop an Unmanned Combat Air System to replace Typhoon and Rafale in the future.
However the latest deal falls short of what was previously expected and is little more than a EUR 200 million study. The real decision to proceed now seems to have been delayed to 2016 and no one is clear if in 2016 we can expect a further study or moving towards an actual demonstrator. It’s also interesting to note that talk of a replacement for Rafale and Typhoon has moved from 2030 to 2035 and the article hints strongly on a British F35/ UCAS mix.
In addition it now seems that serious consideration is being given to bringing in other European Nations into the program.
All in all this just seems like an expensive way to keep the design teams at Dassault and BAE busy well we dance around the bigger issues of French work share, Airbus involvement and MOD funding. The program has many of the hall marks of the early work on Euro fighter and if this is to be the only defence aircraft produced in Europe it will likely come up against the exact same problems of the 1980’s with the French wanting control of the project and also wanting an aircraft carrier variant. Add into the mix other European nations eager for work share but unable or willing to procure the aircraft in sufficient numbers and we can see the development of the same toxic brew that lead to Eurofighter and Rafale.
Given the UK’s track record in developing an indigenous UCAV demonstrator as well as its proven track record in generating foreign military sales one has to ask if participating in this program is worth our while. Will we spend hundred’s of millions on studies only to end up leaving again as with so many other European programs in the past two decades?
Would it not be better to pick up the work already done on Taranis and begin to develop an aircraft program on our own then invite other nations in offering work share in return for R&D spending and procurement spending.
Given the USA’s reluctance to share advanced stealth technology as well as unmanned combat systems there will surely be a future need for emerging powers such as Saudi Arabia and India to have such an aircraft.
If the government had just announced a EUR 200 million study for an armoured vehicle or frigate I am sure there would be many cries of money wasting yet spending such vast sums of money on an aircraft study hardly bats an eye lid.
One possibly more interesting point mentioned at the bottom of the article is that Britain and France are starting to look at requirements for Storm Shadow upgrades. This would likely form the basis for SPEAR 4 giving Storm Shadow a longer range and multi-mode seeker.