The head of the Italian Air Force believes that a merger of Western Europe’s two leading next-generation combat aircraft programs—the Tempest and the Future Combat Air System (FCAS)—is inevitable because there won’t be enough resources to sustain them both.
“It is natural that these two realities will merge into one,” General Luca Goretti, the Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, recently told members of the country’s parliamentary defense committees, per Reuters.
“Investing huge financial resources in two equivalent programs is unthinkable,” he added.
6th Generation Stealth Fighter: Next-Gen Capabilities
The Tempest is a proposed sixth-generation fighter jet concept that is under development in the United Kingdom for the British Royal Air Force. It boasts an ambitious goal of leapfrogging the next-generation capabilities of the world’s most advanced fighter jets today, such as the F-35, F-22, J-20, and the Su-57.
“Tempest is one of the UK’s most ambitious technological endeavors and designed to deliver a highly advanced, adaptable combat air system to come into service from the mid-2030s,” the UK Ministry of Defense noted in a statement.
“This next generation combat aircraft, which forms part of a wider combat air system, will exploit new technologies as they evolve to respond to the changing nature of the battlespace, addressing increasingly high-tech and complex threats and conflict,” it continued.
According to defense writer Thomas Newdick at the War Zone, “currently, BAE Systems is heading up the Tempest program, which … also includes Italian defense contractor Leonardo, European missile consortium MBDA, British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, and the British Royal Air Force, as well as numerous other high-tech companies. Sweden is also on board as an international partner, with Japan potentially waiting in the wings.”
Meanwhile, the FCAS is “being led by Dassault Aviation of France, with Airbus of Germany in a supporting role. This effort also includes plans for a stealth fighter jet, or Next Generation Fighter (NGF), together with various unmanned systems and air-launched weapons. While the French and Germans are leading the FCAS effort, the Spanish Ministry of Defense has also joined the partnership.”
6th Generation Stealth Fighter: Perceived Dominance
Per Reuters, Goretti confirmed that Italy made the decision to join the Tempest program “because it felt it could play a bigger role than in the FCAS program.”
“That could well reflect the perceived dominance of Dassault and Airbus in FCAS, as well as the fact that Leonardo already has strong ties with the United Kingdom on the industrial side, including leading radar development for the Eurofighter Typhoon in its U.K. facility. The Eurofighter consortium also includes BAE Systems and Airbus. However, Goretti also made the case for Italy serving as ‘a bridge’ between NATO and Western European nations that are increasingly looking toward options for collaboration on the continent, rather than necessarily under the Alliance’s auspices,” Newdick writes.
“Goretti’s argument for the eventual fusion of Tempest and FCAS is explained by the fact both are still in their ‘conceptual phase,’ with different countries still defining their requirements. With that in mind, Goretti considers the reverse of the Eurofighter program might be possible—back in the early 1980s, France split off from the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain to build the rival Dassault Rafale instead,” he continues.
However, “while Goretti’s dream of a combined FCAS/Tempest program would likely offer better prospects of financial success all around … the likelihood of it ever happening is tempered by the realpolitik of intra-European relations.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.