The Luftwaffe wants to move faster in combat drones. This is good, Dassault Aviation has been working on the nEUROn demonstrator since 2006; while the Airbus Defense and Space teams continue to advance on the LOUT program launched in 2010.
Combat drones: the Luftwaffe wants to go faster
In an interview given to Defense News, on November 3, the Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe, General Ingo Gerhartz, believes that it is possible “to have the remote carriers (effectors or drones accompanying the combat aircraft/editor’s note)” planned in as part of the SCAF (Future Air Combat System) program “much, much faster”, implied than the new generation NGF combat aircraft. And, “we need to have them much, much sooner,” underlines General Ingo Gerhartz. The Luftwaffe therefore wants to move faster in terms of combat drones.
The war in Ukraine has accelerated the timetables
The war in Ukraine has indeed accelerated the timetables and needs of European armies. With an NGF combat aircraft demonstrator whose first flight is now planned around 2028-2029 and a completed aircraft entering service around 2040, the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff very lucidly believes that an acceleration of the schedule on the different effectors (ISR versions, jamming, ground attack, etc.) is therefore necessary and technically feasible. Especially since the current piloted platforms, Rafale and Eurofighter, will benefit from updates (standard example F5 for the first). Many things can indeed happen between now and 2040 and it is therefore a question of being ready in the face of threats which will also certainly have evolved.
Airbus LOUT or Dassault nEUROn or both at the same time?
The whole issue also revolves around the role of a future combat drone, will it be limited to a simple air-to-ground bombing version or will it also be available in an air-to-air version? This latest version is clearly being considered by the Pentagon and the US Air Force as part of the NGAD program. Logically, the staffs of the European air forces should in turn take into account this unpiloted combat aircraft version. Recalling that Dassault Aviation continues to work on the stealth combat drone demonstrator, whose name is now written nEUROn (well done guys/editor’s note), in parallel with the SCAF program, General Ingo Gerhartz believes that Germany needs of a similar program involving partners.
The opportunity for the British to come back?
This is good: the Airbus Defense and Space design offices are also working on a stealth combat drone project called LOUT for “Low Observable Uav Testbed”. Launched in 2007 and funded by the German Ministry of Defense since 2010, this project, which is shaped like a diamond, was unveiled in November 2019 (see Airlines and Destinations n° 2664) in the form of a full-scale model (12 meters wingspan and a mass of 4 tonnes) in order to reproduce the constraints of military aircraft in the area of discretion and stealth. For this, different configurations were studied, aiming to reduce the detection of the device, allowing “attenuation of surface waves to decouple diffusion effects”. The model revealed included a weapons hold.
Dassault Aviation has managed to obtain a new envelope of nearly €62 million for the nEUROn program, which brought together Sweden, Italy, Greece and Spain, as part of the 2024 Finance Bill. Very possible that the Airbus Defense and Space teams also need an additional budgetary boost from the German government against the backdrop of the arrival of industrial partners. The opportunity for the British to come back?