Airbus DS defining FCAS aircraft requirements with Bundeswehr
Airbus Defence and Space (DS) is currently working with the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) to identify future threats and capability needs to inform its work on the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a senior company official told reporters on 20 June.
Speaking at the company's Ottobrun facility near Munich, Alberto Gutierrez, head of the Eurofighter programme, said that Airbus DS and the Bundeswehr are looking at expected operational requirements and the latest technologies that will be available in the 2030-40 timeframe that the FCAS is expected to enter into service.
On the topic of the German Air Force’s (Luftwaffe) Future Combat Air System (FCAS), Gutierrez said: “They want us to investigate a TORNADO replacement, complimentary to the Eurofighter TYPHOON. Man-Unmanned Teaming is one of the technologies involved. We believe it will be a non-manned aircraft that carries bombs, being controlled by a manned aircraft (a two pilot aircraft). We are currently working with the Luftwaffe, seeing that it will not be a starting from scratch aircraft, as it will not be inexpensive."
OSBORNE Tony: Aged Warrior
, in: Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 20 - July 3 (2016), p. 35
But while Tornado partners Britain and Italy are Downsizing their fleets ahead of the type’s retirement, Germany has no clear plan to replace the aging aircraft.
Britain intends to remove the Tornado from service in April 2019, f lling the gap with the Typhoon and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Italy is on the same path but will retire ist aircraft in the 2025 time period.
So without any clear direction from politicians, industry may have to be ready to help the Tornado limp through until 2040, by which time the aircraft will have been in service nearly 60 years.
Earlier this year, the German defense ministry published its aviation strategy, which hints at replacing the Tornado with a new capability — the so-called NextGen Weapon System (NextGen WS) — taking a lead role in any new multinational program that could follow.
There has been little sign of any tangible progress, however. At the recent Berlin ILA Airshow, industry officials said no meaningful discussions were in play.
“The ministry of defense and the air force have to make up their minds about what they really want,” said one official. Others have described the NextGen WS as a placeholder meant to indicate to industry officials that a commitment to a new program will be forthcoming.
Panavia, the company that manages the aircraft, has started to prepare a rolling upgrade road map to keep the fighter relevant for Germany until 2035 — long after the other nations have retired theirs, including export customer Saudi Arabia.
Unlike with the Typhoon, the four-nation partner fleet of which is upgraded to largely the same standard, Tornado upgrades have largely deviated, with each Country adhering to disparate national requirements. Britain’s aircraft received a midlife upgrade in the form of the GR4; the Tornados now have the capabilities, sensors and weapons for operations from medium altitudes, rather than ground-hugging operations envisaged for the Cold War.
Germany and Italy initially followed similar paths, opting for the Avionics System Software Tornado Ada (ASSTA) spiral upgrade package, but Italy abandoned this route after the ASSTA 2 package, leaving Germany to continue with the next ASSTA 3.0 and 3.1 upgrades.
The ASSTA 3.1 program recently obtained national clearances, and three aircraft are now undergoing final evaluations, with the aim of retrofitting all 85 German Tornados by the end of 2018.
Jointly, ASSTA 3.0 and 3.1 installed a Multifunctional Information Distribution System/Link 16 capability and new
radios, and integrated the ability to drop the laser-guided version of the Joint Direct Attack Munition. New displays have been f tted into the rear cockpit, and a more capable software version allows the aircraft to cope with more Link-16 messages, potentially allowing it to take on mission commander roles.
Panavia is in a study phase for the ASSTA 4.0 upgrade planned to fly around 2018; follow-ons are also being considered.
Among the numerous near-time upgrades for Tornados are installation and integration of the new Saab-built BOZ-101 EC self-protection pod, which adds additional chaff/flare dispensers and missile-warning capabilities.
The Luftwaffe also wants to integrate a new smart laserguided bomb and will make a decision on a new antiradiation missile, likely to be the advanced antiradiation guided missile to replace the AGM-88 high-speed antiradiation missile, which is now the primary weapon of the aircraft’s S/DEAD role. The Tornado ECR (electronic combat/reconnaissance) is a specialized SEAD of shoot of the original Tornado. Other options being studied are beyond-line-of-sight communications for voice and data and a wider cockpit head-up display. Taking the aircraft out to 2040, however, may mean a costly overhaul, at least in terms of an internal electrical system if Tornado is to live on.