Faced with the F-35 and, beyond that, the hegemonic American desire to flood the European market, the only sovereign alternative is and remains a European combat aircraft program. This is all the more true after Germany’s choice to purchase the F-35 to ensure its nuclear missions within the framework of NATO. It must now show its commitment to the SCAF (Air Combat System of the Future), launched by Berlin, Madrid and Paris. This program is currently the only credible alternative to this advancing and invasive American hegemony, which is extremely dangerous for the strategic autonomy that Europe has finally come to realize after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The American Slipknot
Because the F-35 is not just a fighter plane – no matter if it has a lot of bugs – it is above all a system of systems equipped with a battle cloud, which is already the key of all the necessary interoperability between the allied armies. It is through these closed digital assets that the United States seeks to dominate and control its allies. One thing’s for sure, they won’t deny themselves. Moreover, the noose that the Americans have wrapped around the neck of certain docile and/or naive countries with the F-35 will tighten very quickly. For example, the Americans are developing an American-American battle cloud called Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). This program connects all the sensors of the US platforms of the US Armies (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force) in one network.
A first step before asking all their allies who use US equipment or participate in coalitions to connect to this network that is clearly controlled by the United States. Germany will become the tenth country in Europe to acquire the F-35 (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom and Switzerland). Seven of them are also members of the European Union. Thus, the JADC2 risks becoming a NATO standard, and then a standard they impose on all their allies.
In addition to combat aviation, Europe’s tactical and strategic autonomy is therefore at stake through major European defense programs such as the SCAF in particular. The major European countries urgently need to start developing a battle cloud to maintain autonomy in their decision-making. And only a “Made in Europe” battle cloud will allow this. Hence the importance of the SCAF, a system of systems equipped with a European battle cloud used by all member states of the program to counterbalance the hegemonic will of the Americans.
The launch of the SCAF therefore seems a necessity for France, even if it can still count on the extraordinary know-how of Dassault Aviation, one of the few aircraft manufacturers worldwide and the only one in Europe capable of developing and designing a combat aircraft in solo with all his partners. In addition, the Rafale’s unashamed success for export for seven years confirms the skills of the aircraft manufacturer, which could once again develop a new combat aircraft on its own. But that is no longer really a question of whether we are projecting ourselves to 2040/2050. “LThere is no Plan B with the same ambition for independence and European sovereignty as FCAS.”, says an observer familiar with the case. Because theAir combat must fully cooperate by 2040.
The F-35 is therefore the first digital stone of the noose that the United States is preparing for its allies. This device is designed on a closed architecture that prohibits any interoperability with allied combat systems. Which is absolutely contrary to NATO principles. The Secretary of the Armies, Florence Parly, had dragged the United States into a room in March 2019 by claiming that: “the NATO’s solidarity clause is called Article 5, not Article F-35″† But today France can no longer remain isolated after the Rafale.
SCAF, misunderstandings between Dassault and Airbus
Where is the SCAF program? The notification of phase 1B, which corresponds to the detailed studies to arrive at the definition of a demonstrator (phase 2), seems today blocked at the industrial level. According to Dassault Aviation, this contract would be signed in September 2021, i.e. before the end of the year. However, the two main partners of Pillar 1 of the SCAF (fighter aircraft or NGF), Dassault Aviation, as prime contractor, and Airbus are “very, very close to the bottom” with a view to signing the phase 1B contract, we are insured with the European aircraft manufacturer. An Airbus that was cold-picked in early March when the Rafale manufacturer’s results were published by the dry statements of Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier: “We have done everything we can to be able to sign with Airbus. I am waiting for Airbus to sign”he then launched.
“I only agree to be a leader if I have the levers to be a leader. If it’s co-co-co, since there are three of us now, I won’t because it would lie to our armed forces to be able to do something in co-development without a leader, and provide them with performance, time and cost. So we’re kind of stuck on that, it seems,” the CEO of Dassault Aviation lamented.
At Airbus, we ensure that the group: “showed great will to succeed and great flexibility in these discussions”† Particularly within the European aircraft manufacturer “We are not questioning Dassault’s leadership in the NGF,” nor does it want to weaken the capabilities of the aircraft manufacturer’s program architect. It also does not question the development of the demonstrator’s flight controls by the manufacturer of the Rafale, according to our information. “But this leadership must be exercised in a logic of cooperation”, says someone within the European group. What does that mean? “We want to say that the subject is not so much what remains to be negotiated. The subject is the state of mind. What do we call a logic of cooperation? No black box, no duplication and no excessive segregation”we explain at Airbus.
In this regard, the European aircraft manufacturer is asking Dassault Aviation to have an overview of all Pillar 1 work in order to better understand the demonstrator’s behavior and offer its skills. “This visibility between the industrial partners is necessary to have collective efficiencies, which are based on clear responsibilities with clear leadership. Collective efficiency is the opposite of working in silos in the different ‘work packages’ shared between the different partners”, says someone at Airbus. It is very clear that the blockage stems from a difference of appreciation and a difference of culture as to what constitutes a collaboration between the two industrialists. So close but so far from an agreement…