Europe, U.S. Targeting Robotic Wingman Programs.

Author:Harper, Jon
 
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PARIS -- At this year's Paris Air Show, European powers and the United States laid out ambitious plans to pair stealth fighters with unmanned aerial vehicles that could serve as robotic wingmen in high-end combat.

The big news from the opening day of the biennial confab--which brings together government and aerospace industry leaders from around the world --was the unveiling of a mockup of the future combat air system, or FCAS. The Franco-German-Spanish project envisions a sixth-generation stealth fighter teamed with autonomous drones, known as remote carriers, via an "air combat cloud" to facilitate data sharing.

"The progress we have achieved on the FCAS program in recent months is remarkable," Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said in a statement. "It will shape Europe's most decisive military air-combat program for the decades to come."

The program will soon shift from a joint concept phase which began earlier this year to a demonstrator phase, which will run through mid-2021 and serve as a starting point for demonstrators and technology development for the systems to fly by 2026, prime contractors Dassault and Airbus said in a joint press release.

Contract awards for the demonstrator phase are expected by the end of this year.

While Dassault will take the lead on developing the new stealth fighter, Airbus will serve as the prime contractor for the remote carriers and the air-combat cloud.

"The idea behind the remote carriers is that you will have a manned mother-ship, so to speak, accompanied by... drones that are flying in the swarm, which are having [to perform] different tasks depending on the mission," Florian Taitsch, head of media relations for Airbus Defense and Space, said in an interview at the air show.

Those missions could include a variety of tasks such as reconnaissance, electronic jamming, and marking or destroying targets, he said.

Having many "loyal wingmen" working in tandem with the manned platform will provide a "very powerful" capability for warfighters, he added.

The drones could be a tactic to keep airmen out of harm's way. In a high-threat environment, it would be preferable to send a remote carrier than a manned platform, Taitsch said.

Program participants are also looking to ease the cognitive burden for pilots, he noted.

"We need to make the [remote carrier] system as intelligent as possible," Taitsch said. "What is a big help is the current huge steps in terms of artificial intelligence to make...

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