Powering the future

Europe’s next fighter aircraft will not be operational until 2040, but work is under way for its powerplant. Robert Coppinger looks into the technologies being developed and the timeframe guiding the programme

A stealthy tactical fast jet that is networked, able to collaborate with autonomous unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as well as being interoperable with other space, air, ground and naval assets, is a vision for the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project. In effect, FCAS is a system of systems – according to one of its prime contractors, Dassault Aviation – combining a wide range of connected elements operating jointly. The central element is the FCAS fighter aircraft, which is called the Next Generation Fighter (NGF) – early concepts of which had tailless designs but now appear to have incorporated twin tails, similar to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

All FCAS concept imagery, so far, has also shown an NGF with two engines. “The investigation is ongoing and is not finished right now, but most probably there will be a twin-engine configuration,” said Peter Harster, MTU Aero Engines Next Generation Fighter Engine programme head. Known as the Next European Fighter Engine (NEFE), the NGF powerplant is being developed by France’s Safran Aircraft Engines and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines (see box: ‘Working together’). Safran will take the lead in engine design and integration, while MTU will lead when it comes to engine services.

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