France's Dassault Aviation and pan-European aerospace giant Airbus on Monday unveiled a mockup of their joint 'New Generation Fighter' on the first day of the Paris Air Show.
The proposal for a new fighter was first announced in July 2017 by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On Monday, Spain formally joined the New Generation Fighter project. The aircraft is being built to replace France's Dassault Rafale fighters and the Eurofighter Typhoon jets of Germany and Spain, which are supplied by Airbus.
The defence ministers of France, Germany and Spain signed a trilateral framework of cooperation at the unveiling of the New Generation Fighter. Macron was present at the event. The New Generation Fighter is being billed as a 'sixth-generation' fighter, which features stealth, advanced propulsion and communication capabilities to network with and control drones.
The French and German governments plan to invest an initial amount of $4.5 billion in the New Generation Fighter project, with France being the larger contributor. The partner nations plan to fly the first prototype of the New Generation Fighter by 2026. The partner nations envision the New Generation Fighter will be operational by 2040 to begin replacing the Rafale and Eurofighter, both of which entered service shortly after 2000.
Unlike previous generations of fighter aircraft, the New Generation Fighter is being developed as a component of a larger 'Future Combat Air System' that Macron and Merkel agreed upon in 2017. The other components including long-range weapons and drones that would act in concert with the new fighter. The New Generation Fighter will be the “manned” element of the Future Combat Air System, which would control unmanned systems.
The New Generation Fighter will carry all of its weapons in internal weapons bays, allowing the aircraft to avoid radar detection. Current aircraft, like the Rafale, carry their weapons under the wings and fuselage, increasing their radar cross-section and also decreasing range. Aviation Week, a noted aerospace journal, estimated the New Generation Fighter could have size and take-off weight comparable to the 1960s-era Mirage IV bomber. This would make the New Generation Fighter larger in dimensions than the Rafale.
The UK, which was excluded from the NGF project, launched its own sixth-generation fighter project last year, when it unveiled a mockup of a project called the 'Tempest', which envisions a flying prototype by 2025.
The Dassault-Airbus New Generation Fighter is being touted as being 'modular' in nature, with the capability to include new systems required by operators. The fighter will be capable of operating from aircraft carriers, a requirement of the French Navy. Dassault will take the lead in designing the New Generation Fighter.
The New Generation Fighter will be the fourth major collaborative European fighter project after the Anglo-French Jaguar in the 1960s, the Panavia Tornado strike aircraft (UK, Germany and Italy) and the Eurofighter (Germany, UK, Italy and Spain).
Ironically, France was a member of the Eurofighter project, but dropped out in the early 1980s citing work share disputes and instead built the Rafale.