When discussing the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), it is often too easy to equate such an innovative concept to the New Generation Fighter (NGF). As mentioned in previous articles, FCAS is a complete combat System of Systems leveraging the collaborative capabilities of connected assets. In this article, we will reflect on some of its key components.
Western air forces, even the most modern ones, are facing two major trends. The rise of Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS) is leading to more complex and challenging operational environments and at the same time we have seen a decline in the numbers of increasingly sophisticated Western combat aircraft, meaning fewer assets are available for operational duty. When both trends combined, Western air forces are at risk of not being able to field sufficient combat mass to defeat an adversary’s IADS. Teaming of manned combat aircraft with unmanned systems is one way of addressing this situation, whilst bringing the additional benefit of reducing the risk to the pilots. To effectively orchestrate the use of these assets, there is a strong push for Manned-Unmanned Teaming technologies, a field in which Airbus holds a leading position.
Combat missions are primary intended use of Manned-Unmanned Teaming. Purposely designed and built, yet modular, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) known as Remote Carriers (RCs), will team with tomorrow’s NGF and even upgraded in‑service jets such as the Eurofighter. With packs of RCs teaming with combat aircraft, we will provide the augmented combat mass needed in highly contested environments. This will be achieved in a flexible manner depending on the scenario, given the incremental nature of capabilities provided by RCs. An increase in effectiveness will be achieved by opening new fields of tactics based on collaborative combat and the use of deception and numerical superiority to disrupt and overwhelm the opponent. Efficiency will be improved by ensuring that the required mix of capabilities for a given mission is available. Manned assets can remain at a safer distance, whilst closer RCs will deal with the threats, thus keeping the pilots out of harm’s way and increasing the manned platforms’ survivability.
RCs will act as both remote sensors and effectors, due to their ability to carry a wide range of payloads. These will include Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) equipment as well as kinetic and non-kinetic effectors. RCs will therefore support and perform a wide variety of missions including Air-to-Air Combat, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance, Airborne Electronic Attack or Strike. In a flexible manner, the right assets will be chosen and configured according to the task at hand.
To provide these ground-breaking capabilities, Airbus is taking an innovative approach when designing RCs. They will be a family of air vehicles, with sizes ranging from several hundred kilograms, for expendable ones, to several tons, for the more sophisticated loyal wingman type. Airbus, together with its industrial partners, is currently analysing this spectrum within the FCAS Joint Concept Study to determine the most suitable designs, which will be further developed into the Next Generation Weapon System. All RCs will follow the overarching rule of increased commonality and modularity to achieve maximum cost effectiveness.
The below video highlights how RCs teaming with manned assets will play a key role in scenarios where a highly contested environment must be penetrated. Notice how the RCs are used for a variety of roles, acting as force multipliers for the fighter aircraft.