Combat Air Power 2021: Competing Visions for the Future

Evolving peer threats, new budgetary pressures and national industrial imperatives are fuelling fierce competition. This online conference will examine the key next-generation combat air approaches including Tempest, FCAS/SCAF and NGAD

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Each of the three efforts is aiming to eventually field a family of systems which will work together to deliver future air power effects. However, exactly what form this family of systems will take remains unclear in each case.

Debates remain active in Washington DC about whether the NGAD effort should center around an ambitious new fighter – often dubbed Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) – or existing manned designs and a range of UCAVs. The recent news that a physical demonstrator has already flown under the NGAD programme suggests a far more rapid pace than previously predicted. Meanwhile the B-21 Raider long range stealth bomber/multi-mission aircraft development continues at pace but with little public information. The US Navy has also announced the start of its F/A-XX next generation combat aircraft effort.

Team Tempest is the centerpiece of the UK’s future Combat Air Strategy, but debate continues over the prominence or not of a piloted fighter as the core air vehicle. Italy has joined the Tempest programme, and Sweden has signed a trilateral agreement on future combat air cooperation so both of their requirements and industrial capabilities will also shape the eventual weapons system(s). Within the Franco-German-Spanish SCAF/FCAS programme, Dassault has a dominant industrial position and is unambiguously aiming to develop a new fighter. Germany has been given the lead for the systems architecture and remote weapons carriers; a politically interesting choice given German public opinion. Here too the exact requirements and how the future family of systems will be developed to fit around a future fighter to replace Rafale and Eurofighter are still unclear.

This online conference will draw on presentations and debates between experts, capability planners and stakeholders from the countries in question to try and shed light on the different emerging visions of future combat air within the NATO alliance. Since the threat picture is also constantly evolving as Russia and China seek to erode the airpower edge of the West, the latest trends from outside NATO will also be examined in a separate panel. 2021 will be another year of major decisions shaping the next thirty years of NATO air capabilities, making it all the more vital to improve our common understanding of the potential for cooperation and divergence inside the Alliance and out. 

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