A three-year-old Anglo-French bid to define the future of unmanned combat aircraft looks to be falling foul of Brexit, as “political and budgetary uncertainty” in London have left the launch of a demonstrator programme in doubt.
Dassault Aviation chief executive Éric Trappier says the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme is now just “marking time”.
Presenting Dassault's 2017 financial results at its headquarters at St Cloud, Paris, Trappier said he was “disappointed” by the stalling of a programme that represented five or six years of design work in collaboration with BAE Systems in the UK.
FCAS was expected to move into a full-scale demonstrator development programme at the end of 2017, following a formal two-year feasibility study begun in November 2014 and a further 12-month study phase last year. “We wanted a contract to build a demonstrator,” Trappier says, but that has not happened.
Now, he says, attention has moved to a proposed Franco-German project that would see Dassault and Airbus design a new combat system for the 2040s, as a successor to the countries' respective Rafale and Eurofighter programmes. Details remain under discussion, but significant unmanned capabilities, perhaps as indicated by FCAS and the Dassault-led Neuron programme, are expected.
While Dassault and Airbus work on the technical aspects, Trappier says the French and German governments will have to do the critical work of defining how the two countries will work together on the project. “The way in which we co-operate, that will be the most important point,” he says.
Neuron was a great success, he says, because the six countries involved were well-organised with clear goals. A sign of success, he adds, is that the aircraft proved reliable enough to make demonstration flights at air shows.
Dassault enjoyed a good year financially in 2017. Sales rose by more than a third to €4.8 billion, with delivery of a single Rafale to France and eight to Egypt, against a total of nine deliveries of the multirole type in 2016. Falcon business jet deliveries held steady last year at 49. Net income rose 27% to €489 million ($605 million). The top line, says Trappier, should be about the same for 2018.
For Falcon, 2017 was marked by the cancellation of the 5X business jet owing to extensive delays on the Safran Silvercrest engine that was to power it, but 2018 is off to an encouraging start. A Pratt & Whitney Canada-powered replacement, the 6X, was launched last month, and Trappier says the market is showing signs of recovery, particularly some renewed buoyancy in the pre-owned jet market in the USA.
Dassault is ramping down output to deliver 40 Falcons in 2018, but is watching the market, he says.