The FCAS programme and the Spanish Defence Industry: a wrong bet

Future Combat Air System (FCAS)
Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Source - Airbus.

If there is a controversial programme in which the Spanish Ministry of Defence is embarked, that is the FCAS. Born as an initiative of the European Technology Acquisition Program (ETAP) aimed at exploring the needs of the EU air forces in relation to a new joint air combat weapons system, with the signing of the framework agreement NGWS mutated into something very different. The prioritization of the interests of the defense industry over those of the Air Force in the case of Spain, the particular interests of France -with Dassault in the lead-, the hesitant position of Germany, the multiple delays and disagreements among the partners or the Spanish commitment to Indra -to the detriment of Airbus- as national coordinator are just some of the controversial issues in a program that has always walked a tightrope. In addition, a question still hangs over the decision makers of the three states that are part of the FCAS programme: is it the right bet?

The FCAS programme (Future Combat Air System) was born from an initiative of the European Technology Acquisition Program (ETAP or European Technology Acquisition Program) aimed at exploring the needs of the EU air forces in relation to a new joint air combat weapons system. The first steps were taken way back in 2001[1] when the Eurofighter Typhoon it had not even entered service (it would from 2003). At that time, the ETAP analyzed up to a dozen different proposals for possible FCAS, reaching the conclusion that two were the most promising solutions[2]. Since then, as is commonly said, a lot has happened, and the program, as well as the countries involved, have also been changing. Moreover, the same acronyms have referred to very different initiatives, such as the failed SCAF-FCAS, launched by Dassault and BAE Systems on the basis of their demonstrators. Neuron (developed in collaboration with Italy and Sweden) and Taranis respectively[3].

Since this is not intended to be a historical article, we will go back to the last five years, during which the most relevant agreements for the current program have been signed. In this sense, the first decision to develop a new generation joint European Air Defense System was taken by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, in the summer of 2017. A year later, in 2018, both States signed, together with their respective Ministers of Defense, a High Level Common Operational Requirements Document (HLCORD) for a new generation weapons system (NGWS) as part of the FCAS[4]. Later, already in 2019, the signing of the two documents that start the program as we know it would take place. First, the Franco-German Joint Study Agreement (JCS)[5], signed in February. Secondly, and more importantly if possible, that same summer and coinciding with the 53rd edition of the International Aeronautics and Space Show in Paris, the agreement for the development of the NGWS would be made official.[6] (Next Generation Weapon System), to which Spain was added. This was -and officially still is- an initiative of the governments of Paris, Madrid and Berlin launched with the intention of putting into the air a new and complex system made up of both manned and unmanned aircraft to replace the current ones. Typhoon Gust, around the year 2040.

The staging of the signing by the three defense ministers involved under the watchful eye of Macron in the summer of 2019, despite being an important milestone -and certifying the entry of Spain on an equal footing with France and Germany-, did not it served to put an end to some disagreements between partners that have accompanied the project since its inception. It must be taken into account that, although the NGWS is relatively recent, the path has been tortuous since before its approval. You only have to go back to the departure of the United Kingdom to launch the program Tempest in July 2018[7], to the discussions between France and Germany regarding arms export policy, to those relating to industrial distribution – with Dassault’s continual threats to abandon the project if the rest of the partners do not accept its impositions – or, in the case of Spain, to the election of Indra as national coordinator to the detriment of Airbus Spain. Nor can we forget that the FCAS must comply with sometimes conflicting requirements, something that will already hamper the development of the Euro Fighter and that it cost France to leave the program by not accepting designs such as the TFK-90 or the P110.B that were not shippable. The latter is an issue that still worries French decision-makers, as shown by some of the reports from its Senate[8].

In the case of Spain, our country has been involved in the program from the outset, being one of the six signatory nations of the Letter of Intent for the Restructuring of the European Defense Industry (LOI-EDIR) together with Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Sweden. Later, in 2013, a conference on the subject was organized at the Air Warfare Center[9] which brought together the DGAM, INTA, the Air Force and the defense industry, in which technological and operational aspects of FCAS were discussed, ranging from the very concept of the program to the requirements and capabilities, the missions to be fulfilled or the technological and industrial risk[10]. These were difficult times, since the economic situation after the 2008 crisis hampered investment in defense, which prevented the Ministry of Defense from getting involved in some programs, forced it to reduce acquisitions and forced the delay in others, leading the national industry to a critical point, in which the survival of the sector became threatened. It did so to such an extent that the Ministry of Defense ended up embarking on some programs and purchases solely for industrial interests that did not seem to be “fully aligned with national needs”, something that applies perfectly in the case of FCAS[11]. Let us not forget that, for our Ministry of Defence, at least officially and as stated in the Technology and Innovation Strategy for Defense (ETID 2020)[12], the FCAS is among all future great platforms:

“The most representative program […] understood as the next generation of aerial combat capabilities, which will combine manned components, remotely manned platforms, effectors and other cooperating elements integrated into a system of systems architecture, operating in a network as a single functional entity . Thus, the national FCAS concept fundamentally contemplates the NGWS as the main element, together with the EF-18MLU replacement manned aircraft and the evolution of the Eurofighter aircraft (EF Long Term Evolution); The object of the NGWS program is the renewal of the current Eurofighter (Germany and Spain) and Rafale (France) fleets in the temporary environment of 2040. The program is structured in a set of seven technological pillars; Future Fighter Aircraft (NGF), Unmanned Remote Operators (RC), New Advanced Sensor Systems (SENSORS), Combat Cloud (CC), Simulation (SIMLAB), Propulsion (ENGINE) and Low Observability (ELOT)”.

To which they add:

“Given the characteristics of the threats that the Armed Forces must face, it is necessary to have large platforms and weapon systems in the land, naval, air and space domains, which incorporate highly complex technological advances, which often they are carried out in international cooperation, involving large economic investments and very long development periods.

As these are systems designed to be in service for decades, it is necessary to undertake technological programs a number of years in advance, in which the incorporation of the latest technologies to the most critical functions of the system is addressed through technological demonstrators, the which allow to validate the maturity of these developments and the risk of transferring them to the final systems”.

It is precisely here, as we will see, where the problems begin, since it is assumed, decades from now (in the time frame of 2040), that the platform-centric paradigm that has prevailed since the end of the Second World War will continue to be in force the entry into service of the FCAS, a date that has also been postponed on several occasions. So much so that, according to the latest calculations by the CEO of Dassault, its entry into service could be around 2050 rather than around 2040, a date on which it seems difficult to think of a manned platform as the core of this system of systems.[13]

In the time that we have lived, at least in relation to defense, making such long-term plans is more an act of faith than a rational act. Not surprisingly, the technological singularity is expected around 2035[14], we are immersed in an unprecedented Military Revolution and any military program three decades ahead, as is the case with FCAS, should be viewed with great caution. It is no coincidence that in a relatively short space of time we have witnessed unprecedented intellectual developments, which have been reflected in successive doctrinal changes. notions like those of “Network Warfare” and “Network-Centric Warfare”“Hybrid Wars” o “New Generation Wars” in the previous decades and more recently those of “Multi Domain War” o “Mosaic War” Ultimately, they are nothing more than attempts to approach a moment of profound change. A period in which an authentic Military Revolution has been brewing -it is still under way- that threatens to radically alter much of what we take for granted regarding war, the way of fighting and, as a consequence, of proposing military programs.

In this sea of ​​changes, the defense industry, especially platform companies, as well as Spanish and European military planners, have been walking a tightrope for years. In the first place, because forecasting is increasingly complex. To the technological advances and their possible applications in the war field must be added the need to anticipate in what new and surprising ways weapons and systems already in use can be used, both independently and in combination with new developments. Second, because the process of conceptualizing, designing, testing, producing and entering service for new weapons systems and platforms requires enormous resources and time, especially time, too often measured in decades[15]. This is something that must change and that not only affects Spain, but the EU as a whole, since the Military Revolution has taken the continent at a different pace in many aspects. One need only look at what is happening with some PESCO projects, which continue to run despite not making progress, solely because there is an irrational fear of admitting failure, when the appropriate approach would be to back down after the first negative evaluations, reallocating resources to more promising ones.

Despite the fact that in relation to the Eurofighter or the Rafale, the FCAS does present an evolutionary leap, in relative terms, that is, compared to the possible competition, it does not contribute anything substantially new. In fact, many of the possibilities that it could offer if the program comes to fruition are actually already being implemented by the United States today. Source – Airbus.



The Military Revolution underway

Scholars, mostly Anglo-Saxon, have been theorizing since the late 80s and early 90s about the consequences of the technological changes that were affecting the way of waging war even then. Even the Soviets – in fact, some time in advance at the hands of Nikolai Ogarkov[16]– they had talked about it. Changes that mostly began with the implementation by the US Government of the Second Compensation Strategy after the defeat suffered in Vietnam and the need to compensate through qualitative improvements the enormous numerical superiority of the Red Army in Western Europe. The development of satellite communications technologies, of guidance systems, of new weapons and more capable weapons systems, the improvements in computing associated with the arrival of microprocessors and the appearance of new doctrines such as the Air-Land Battle They proved their worth during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Thus began to speak of an incipient “Revolution in Military Information Affairs”, a questionable and questionable concept.

The perspective offered by time now allows us to see both the 80s and 90s and the first decade of the XNUMXst century in a different light. Of course, we do not intend to demonstrate it in an article of a few thousand words and dedicated to another topic, but we do point out that there are many factors that indicate that we are facing a full-fledged Military Revolution and not a “simple” Revolution. in Military Affairs, a much more limited term and with lesser implications[17]. Thus, the changes seen since “Desert Storm”, that continued to deepen during the time of the “Military Transformation”would only be the tip of the iceberg of a much broader and deeper process. A Military Revolution in which both the way of fighting, as well as the key technologies on the battlefield or the relationship between society, economy, industry and the war phenomenon are changing as they had not done since the beginning of the Age Modern.

As in all processes of change of such depth, it is not something linear, but rather works in small steps, depending on the appearance of subsidiary advances. In this way, only the passage of time allows the phenomenon to be observed as a whole and identified. Thus, in the case of the Gunpowder Military Revolution, changes in naval construction were associated with it to incorporate cannons on the sides of ships, changes in production to supply the demand for arquebuses, cannons or gunpowder itself, changes doctrinal to get the best out of new weapons, changes in construction, such as the Italian trace, to protect against eéstas, the arrival of the first national armies;, because the modern states were the only ones that could afford all of the above, etc. Consequently, the changes associated with the arrival of gunpowder went far beyond the military to affect the economy or society. However, for a Chinese living in the year 1402 or a European seventy years later, despite the fact that firearms were already a reality, nothing of what we have told seemed obvious to him. Only the passage of time would allow the accumulation of changes to lead to the improvement of the firing mechanism of the arquebuses, to the doctrinal developments that gave rise to the Great Captain or Gustav II Adolf, to the appearance of the ship of the line or to the fortifications designed by Vauban.

In the time that we have lived, a similar phenomenon is taking place. As we have said, since the 80s there has been theorizing about the changes we are witnessing, but only very recently have we begun to clearly see some of the signs that tell us of a budding Military Revolution based on the trinity of information , accuracy and speed[18]. The fundamental technical change on which it is based is, without a doubt, the possibility of obtaining, managing and using enormous amounts of information for personal benefit, thus accelerating what is known as the cycle of Boyd or OODA loop. The catalyst of the phenomenon is the appearance of certain technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence, but also other associated ones, such as improvements in computing, communications, Big Data, etc., which make it possible to manage and take advantage of the information obtained. The changes, as the latest conflicts are showing, go beyond incremental improvements in the way of fighting, to affect the defense industry, doctrines and society as a whole. The latter, thanks to the Internet and the generalization of smartphones, has for the first time the possibility of assisting in the development of war operations almost in real time, but also of organizing against war or being influenced by disinformation campaigns in a way we haven’t seen before. Also on the doctrinal and intellectual level, the advances in multi-domain and mosaic warfare conceived by the US agency DARPA promise to give cohesion and meaning to all these advances, integrating them within a theoretical framework that allows their correct exploitation.

In military terms, which is what concerns us, the military revolution in the making is marked, among other things, by the end of the platform-centric paradigm, in favor of another based on the concept of “system of systems.” Without this implying that the large platforms, such as battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, combat planes or warships, will disappear, we will witness a distribution of sensors and weapons that until now were incorporated in smaller platforms. small and cheap, multiplying the lethality under the Lanchester Square Law[19]. In this way, the enemy’s dilemmas will grow exponentially when attacked from multiple points and it will be possible to take full advantage of the ability to manage the large volume of data collected by sensors on the ground, in the air and even orbiting in space. So far the “easy” part of adapting to the ongoing Military Revolution. That is, the theoretical part related to the transition from platforms to systems and from monolithic to disaggregated. The tricky part has to do with the iteration rate.

Lanchester’s Square Law tells us that combat power is proportional to the square of the relative size of the opposing forces. In other words, if we have a numerical force that doubles that of the enemy, we will have a destructive capacity four times greater than his. Source – Paul Scharre and James Marshall.

In past times, the difficulty of communicating and undertaking long journeys, and the fact that many manufacturing methods were manual and depended on a handful of highly specialized craftsmen, hampered the process of technological diffusion. Gunpowder, like other advances, although it became widespread relatively quickly once it arrived from Asia to Europe, it took literally centuries to give rise to weapons, doctrines and organizations capable of harnessing its full potential. In times of the Industrial Revolution, this period was significantly shortened. The time between the first tanks being put into service by the British Empire and their coming into common use by armies across Europe, in the United States and even in Japan was just over a decade. The same with the plane and with many other advances. The new means of communication, the possibility that spies, engineers, military attaches could transfer information about the advances of allies or rivals by telegraph or radio, or even in person thanks to the plane and airship, or motor ships. Being able to evaluate the progress of the rest at almost any time, in turn allowed us to design and implement improvements in our own developments with a speed never seen before. Today, needless to say, this trend has been deepening, closely related to the revolution experienced in telecommunications, but also in means of transport. The consequence is clear: the modern battlefield is witnessing how developments in some fields follow each other at breakneck speed and also how countermeasures aimed at combating them appear at a comparable rate.

By virtue of all of the above, we have reached a point where military programs for decades to come make less and less sense, something that is already conditioning the decisions of military planners. It is enough to see what happened in the United States with the F-35 program and the change of concept that its successor, the NGAD, supposes (Next Generation Air Dominance). In the latter case, far from trying to repeat the experience of the Lightning II, which has been a headache due to the complexity of integrating the requirements of the Marines, Navy and Air Force on the same design, will seek to increase the rate of iteration based on simpler designs. In this way they hope to be able to introduce incremental changes in the base platform, but also in the unmanned devices that make up the system of systems together with it, adapting as quickly as possible to changes on the battlefield, facilitating program management, removing burdens from the shoulders of the industry and surely, saving money. In addition, with the advantage of evading Augustine’s Laws on the one hand and avoiding inertia on the other, so that the program does not become, as happened with the Joint Strike Fighter in a “too big to fail” program. In other words, they will try to pursue only achievable goals in the short and medium term, instead of pinning their hopes on a revolutionary design at the time of its conception, but one that is so difficult to materialize that it arrives out of date at the time of entry into service. Moreover, the intention is to have the NGAD become a real capacity before 2030[20]. This is, neither more nor less, the opposite of what is happening with the FCAS, as we will see below. In addition, our Anglo-Saxon allies are putting much of the emphasis on UCAVs and companion UAVs, which is surely where the bulk of the market will lie in the future…

With the NGAD, the United States is betting on a program that, rather than being decades away, can be introduced quickly and evolve on the fly, benefiting from a high rate of iteration. In the image, published in its day by the USAF, they intend to show how even something apparently as little given to change as the landing gear, can evolve and be integrated into the manned platform as improvements are implemented in its design. The same would apply to engines, weapons, accompanying drones or even the possibility of giving up the pilot, among many other things. Source – USAF.

The many problems of the FCAS

The FCAS was born with the declared intention of being a “system of systems” in which manned and unmanned platforms, new weapons, reconnaissance systems, early warning, etc. are integrated. Up to this point, all good, because the emphasis is on the integration between manned and unmanned platforms, weapons, sensors and the communications architecture that makes it all possible. However, despite the fact that the program and its predecessors have been underway for years, they have not yet managed to agree on even some of the crucial aspects, such as the exact type of manned device to be developed, this being a critical point, since it will be the central node of the system. Thus, despite the fact that nominally they seek to have a 6th generation fighter-bomber (which is still a way of acknowledging the delays, since the program was born to provide the European Air Forces with a 5th generation aircraft), the basic characteristics are yet to be defined. In fact, the last contract assigned for the NGWS/FCAS program, on September 28, has as its declared objective[21]:

“[…] collaborate in the development of the Concept of Operations (CONOPS), investigating possible evolutions of the challenges of the National Defense, in the domain of responsibility of the Air Force, and detailing possible solutions to face them”.

Thus, according to the text of the Spanish Ministry of Defense:

“The investigations carried out during the execution of this contract will allow the resulting Concept of Operations to help define the NGWS/FCAS program in its next stages of technology maturation and demonstrator development.”

Which in practice means that it is not even known how the resulting system will be used. This, in itself, is not bad. Many projects start like this and must go through various definition phases before having a clear idea of ​​what the final product should be. Now, that this is the traditional procedure in programs of this entity does not mean that it is correct for the reasons that we have put forward when speaking about the Military Revolution in the making, nor that it is being done on time. In fact, everything indicates that we are late, very late.

The FCAS, you only have to see official images of Airbus like the one that serves as the cover for this article or the public documentation on the program, does not seem to offer anything radically new not only for 2050, but not even for 2030. In fact, according to the images, the official diagrams and the little information that transcends, it does not seem to go beyond what it would offer, for example a Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter-bomber Lightning II[22] operating next to several Loyal wingman like the ones Australia has in testing[23]. In other words, there is the possibility that the FCAS, as it is proposed, arrives even decades late, the same thing that is already happening with another controversial program, the euromale;, a system that, if it finally works, will offer by 2030 something that the United States has been using for decades[24].

However, we are still far from that phase. Before getting there, it is time, as we have said, to define each component of the program and reach an agreement on the manned platform, called NGF or New generation fighter. This is the most controversial aspect for now[25] because of the ambitions of each party regarding industrial distribution, as well as the particular French needs. Let us remember that France, by having a CATOBAR aircraft carrier in service and having another in the design phase, requires that the resulting aircraft be able to be embarked, something that goes against Spanish and German interests and complicates and makes the project more expensive[26]. Also that despite there being an agreement regarding the areas that each nation leads within the program, the discussions between partners for minor details continue to be the order of the day and the definitive agreement on the industrial distribution will come much later, possibly towards 2026.[27]. Not to mention the disputes regarding future exports[28] -if they achieve a commercially viable product- that have hindered the negotiations between France and Germany not only related to this program, but to others like the future MGCS. Regarding the latter, it is also important to point out that the negotiation between both states regarding the FCAS and the MGCS has been linked at all times, in such a way that they reached a 50/50 industrial participation agreement, but with the French leadership in the aerospace component and German in the ground component[29].

The matter is not trivial, since the integration of Spain in the FCAS program, although it has allowed the entry of a good number of national companies in the project such as GMV, Sener or Tecnobit in addition to Indra itself[30], it has been done in a forced way. Thus, although it seems a fact already accepted by the European giant (in exchange for important compensation whose cost should be added to that of the program)[31], the election by the Government of Spain of Indra as national industrial coordinator to the detriment of Airbus Spain continues to raise blisters. A decision that was made in 2019[32] with the support of Dassault (which did not want Airbus to lead the German and Spanish side), which provoked angry protests and the putting into practice of all the lobbying power of the multinational and which in turn started a series of tectonic changes in the architecture of the Spanish defense industry.

Also in relation to industrial distribution, another critical aspect should be mentioned: transaction costs. As was the case with other European programs such as the attack helicopter Tigre, the NH-90 multipurpose helicopter, the EF-2000 combat aircraft Typhoon or the A-400M transport aircraft, in the case of FCAS enormous transaction costs are incurred related to negotiation and decision. In other words, the need to offer returns to each of the partners, the different weight of each of them within the programs, the location of production in plants that are sometimes not optimal, or the need to transport parts among them when the entire assembly could be carried out in a single installation, are undesirable consequences derived from the initial political agreements. The result is pernicious in several ways. On the one hand, they increase the price of the final product, which must include transaction costs. On the other hand, industrial distribution, not obeying purely economic but political reasons, ends up resulting in the installation of production plants in this or that place that later have to receive a workload to keep going, at the risk of losing what invested, creating easements. Lastly, this type of program forces participants to acquire an sometimes excessive number of platforms to ensure that it is commercially viable thanks to economies of scale, or that the percentage of participation in the project is the desired one.

In summary, the FCAS, as has been happening and is happening with other European programmes, suffers from serious problems related to the inclusion of sometimes incompatible requirements, endless negotiations, lack of definition, transaction costs and, in short, because everything above always materializes in the same way, of cost overruns, excessive development deadlines and, in most cases, delays. This, which in another not too distant era was not so relevant – after all, Europe has given birth to magnificent products such as the Euro Fighter– represents an unacceptable risk in a period of Military Revolution like the current one. Therefore, the logical solution does not go through endless programs in which the partners end up making such investments that after a while they make it impossible to withdraw, but through much more affordable projects, in many cases based on platforms legacy, although they could also be newly minted as long as the technological risk is acceptable and they allow a very high rate of iteration. What is crucial, in times of uncertainty, is that at no time do the participants lose their freedom of maneuver due to inertia or having made too high a bet, finding themselves inexorably anchored to erroneous programs.

The Tigre program is a good example of everything that can go wrong in a multinational program: an excessively expensive product due to transaction costs and industrial sharing, as well as the inclusion of incompatible requirements, which led to the development of a illogical number of variants, of which an excessive number (not in relation to the needs) of units were procured which subsequently ended up partly on the ground due to lack of funds for the life cycle and operation, subjected to extremely expensive modernization and without a viable alternative as it has become an industrial and military imperative. Source – Airbus.

The difficult future of the Spanish defense industry

On occasion we have spoken about the need to undertake changes in the “architecture” of the defense industry in Spain[33], so that it is in a position to face the ongoing Military Revolution with guarantees. In addition, the decisions that are made must take into account not only the Military Revolution that we are experiencing, but also a second factor that conditions the entire process: the recent boost to European integration in defense matters. Since the launch of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and especially now that the Ukraine War has shown that a conventional and high-intensity war is possible in Europe, bringing to light the shortcomings of the EU in this matter, in Brussels have taken firm steps, although insufficient, to deepen the common Defense. Beyond the PESCO projects or the endowment of the EDF (European Defense Fund), in the medium term it is expected to return to the path of industrial integration, creating a few corporations in the image and likeness of Airbus, theoretically capable given their size and resources, to compete with Anglo-Saxon or, increasingly, Asian companies.

To ensure the future of the sector, we must take into account that we are a medium power, with a ridiculous investment in defense compared to some of our partners and without the vocation to increase it to those levels[34]. Also that our industrial fabric is totally dissociated between 1) two large companies -Airbus Spain and Navantia- but without the necessary size by themselves to match the great European and world giants and; 2) a large group of medium and small companies, all of them with a clear export vocation. In other words, we are not in a position to compete on equal terms with our European partners, who do have true “national champions”, but neither are we in a position to integrate our industry into European conglomerates without repeating the mistakes made when joining EADS. Therefore, it is imperative to take drastic measures. Measures that, as much as possible, allow us to take advantage of the trends that we have been pointing out throughout the text, based on our strengths, which are not few, for the benefit of the national interest.

In this sense, there are two basic options to choose from, as former Defense Minister Julián García Vargas puts it: specialization in very specific niches or concentration[35]. In other words, Spain can opt for two solutions in order to ensure the future of its defense industrial and technological base:

  • The first would mean focusing on specific sectors in which we can add added value or have a differential advantage over the competition. It is something that could be done based on companies with very specific and demanded products, such as the Instalaza grenade launchers, the SAES sonars or naval mines or the Urovesa VLTT. Also based on specific manufacturing capabilities that provide versatility, as is the case with Escribano Mechanical & Engineering (EM&E) or MTorres. Even providing engineering services, something that is done from Sener to Grupo Oesía through Técnicas Reunidas or ISDEFE, although the latter is a particular case.
  • The second would be to try to assimilate ourselves to Germany, France or Italy by having one or several “national champions” as is the case with Airbus (of which we control a tiny part), Safran, Dassault, Naval Group, Fincantieri, Leonardo, Thales, Rheinmetal or MBDA, to put only the best known examples. On paper, this would allow us to integrate ourselves into future European groups that are emerging in the image and likeness of Airbus in other areas, such as the naval sector, becoming part of a process that Naval Group and Fincantieri have already started with Naviris[36]. However, in the case of Spain, it is doubtful that this will occur under equal conditions, given that the companies that we can aspire to integrate are significantly smaller than other trans-Pyrenean companies and conglomerates[37]. This is ultimately applicable to Navantia, but also to Indra.

However, they are not completely exclusive options, as former Minister Vargas warns in the same text, nor are they unique. Actually, there are other possibilities that deserve to be explored and that are better adjusted to the double objective of getting on the bandwagon of the Military Revolution on the one hand and to stay in the top group as far as the EU is concerned, ultimately the key objective in industrial terms. This, in the Spanish case, involves continuing to promote small and medium-sized companies, which constitute the base of the defense industrial fabric in the country, while betting on what we could call a “variable architecture”.

The reader must understand that in a period of uncertainty such as the current one, the aspect that will make the difference between those who survive and those who are left behind will be the ability to respond quickly to changes, rather than designing and producing “state of the art” systems or platforms. the art” falling into the trap of “baroque armament”[38]. This requires, on the one hand, a continuous flow of new ideas, which in turn requires a favorable environment: 1) an industrial ecosystem focused on innovation; 2) that it does not carry burdens such as some corporate and institutional cultures; 3) that it does not suffer from the lobbying capacity of companies so large that they become a hindrance to innovation by imposing projects that are perhaps not the most appropriate and; 4) in which scarce resources are used to maximize the possibilities of the whole and not of a few.

Explained much more graphically, and going back to the example that we gave at the beginning about the main battle tank facing a hundred ATGMs, we cannot fall into the error of concentrating on one or two companies, risking that their projects do not come together, but rather we must distribute the bets between a much larger number. In this way, and assuming that many of the programs may not come to anything, we will maximize the chances that at least some of them will become a success while maintaining a constant and varied volume of new projects.

Regarding the “variable architecture”, it is simply and simply about continuing to establish the conditions (including incentives and political support) so that these companies can, if necessary, form alliances, consortiums, joint ventures or the figure that best suits each need, to attend competitions together or to develop new products taking advantage of the strengths of each of them. The latter must also be carried out both within the country itself, between national companies, and abroad, favoring that they can establish contacts with other firms on the continent, something in which we still have a long way to go.

It is imperative to understand that even in the case of the largest and most complex platforms, such as FCAS itself or submarines, the trend favors disaggregation and the reduction of technological risk and complexity while maintaining a high rate of iteration. We are seeing the latter, for example, with the American XLUUV program, which promises to be able to put between a dozen and twenty unmanned submarines in the water for the price of each Virginia-class SBN, or with the comparison between the HESA suicide drones Shaheed-136 Iranians employed by Russia in Ukraine and every ballistic missile Iskander, more than fifty times more expensive. Both are examples of what is to come and of what the FCAS, as it has been proposed and despite adopting some important concepts such as the use of slave drones around a main platform, is the antithesis. It is given the complexity of the program and the technological and industrial risk, especially for a Spain that cannot risk the future of its industry on a card.

The US Navy’s XLUUV program is seeking a submarine capable of autonomous ocean patrols. For the cost of a single Virginia-class submarine, between 50 and 70 of these devices can be put into service. This does not mean that the large attack SSNs are going to disappear, but it does mean that their role will change and that their number will be reduced, with part of the protagonism passing to systems such as the XLUUV and the like. Source – Boeing.

The commitment to Indra: the forced creation of a “national champion” to the detriment of the defense industry and the interests of the Armed Forces

All of the above brings us once again to Indra. The Spanish company has been going through a critical stage since the beginning of the summer. The Government’s attempts to make it a “national champion” in the Defense sector, when less than a quarter of its turnover came from this sector, have served to give the press juicy headlines. Not only did they encounter resistance from traditional shareholders, such as Amber Capital, but they have cost an unprecedented crisis in the Board of Directors that has not been resolved, and only provisionally, until very recently. [39]. All for trying to make a technology company, with a broad and diversified portfolio, a defense giant at full speed, which implies a huge dependence on the FCAS program.

Indra is a company with a turnover of more than 4.000 million euros a year, which participates in many sectors beyond defense and which, at this early stage of the FCAS, still has other growth options, even within this sector. It will be different in the event that the blind bet on the FCAS ends up completely linking Indra’s future to said program. Let’s not forget that the total value of it, including the purchase of the devices and the life cycle could amount to between 50.000 and 80.000[40] million euros, of which a third should be contributed by Spain, obtaining equivalent returns. Unlike Airbus, with a much larger size in addition to a business focused on civil production or Dassault, which will produce, albeit alone, future French aircraft as a platform operator, the Executive’s commitment does not seem to include a plan B.

All of the above inexorably links Indra’s future in the sector to the FCAS program, making it for Spain precisely what must be avoided at all costs: a “too big to fail” program. In this way, if France or Germany finally back down -and the risk is not trivial-, a company that previously opted for diversification will be in a critical situation, taking with it in its fall a good part of the Spanish hopes of staying in the “group of 4”[41] within the Europe of Defense.

In other words, we have reached a situation, once again, in which the misunderstood national interest has been transformed into the interest of a single company – and even that is debatable as it could pose a problem for it – and it has been placed above the interests of the defense industry as a whole. But still, above the interest of the Armed Forces, that need solutions in the short and medium term in the face of the irremediable decline of some models.

Let’s be frank: Indra should have a central role in the Spanish defense industrial ecosystem. In this sense, its function, since it is a company controlled by the Government, should be one of drag, allowing medium and small companies to collaborate with it in a multitude of programs, but in no case overshadowing them. Unfortunately, the effort to make Indra grow quickly is causing the opposite effect to the desired one. Instead of acting as a vector that allows the entire defense industrial fabric to benefit, Indra is taking away opportunities from the “middle class”. It is something that is already happening, without going any further in the EU, where Indra concurs with the support of the State for the various programs and the “hunt” for community funds, which indirectly causes private companies that do not have the same government endorsement, end up excluded. All for the sake of turning the listed company into that “national champion” that we have talked about, something that should be the means to an end – to satisfy the needs of the Armed Forces and favor the situation of the defense industry as a whole in the long term. in Spain – and not an end in itself.

Having said all of the above, in no case should we forget that our Armed Forces are the end user of products such as those that the FCAS/NGWS program should illuminate. Some Armed Forces that have immediate problems of obsolescence y loss of capabilities and that they are already facing an increasingly tense and unstable situation in the Strait of Gibraltar, our top concern right now, beyond Ukraine or any other scenario. The only solution in the short and medium term is none other than the F-35, which must be acquired in a small but reasonable quantity to cover the needs of the Navy and the Air Force. As much as we cannot enter as industrial partners, since we have already missed that train, a similar purchase is always negotiated and following the best practices and implies technological and industrial returns that could be substantial, also for Indra, while thinking about how to refocus the FCAS program. Recall that Germany is processing the acquisition of 35 F-35[42], that France is threatening to develop its own fighter-bomber on its own, and that as much as the three partners need a long-term solution, FCAS does not seem to offer one.

While France, Spain and Germany think in terms of 2040 or 2050, the United States and Australia, among others, are getting ahead of the market and developing some of the systems that will have a greater role in the second half of this decade and in the following. Source – Boeing Australia.


As much as this is an opinion article, we believe we have shown that: 1) the FCAS is a project with too high a technological, industrial and financial risk in a scenario of great uncertainty motivated by the process of Military Revolution; 2) the commitment to transform Indra into a “national champion” of the Defense sector, making it dependent on the FCAS program and at the expense of the interests of the Armed Forces themselves, is a mistake; 3) there is a great risk that the desire to make Indra the reference Spanish defense company will have a negative impact on the small and medium-sized companies that make up our industrial base, weighing down the future of the entire sector; 4) there are viable and logical alternatives that should be adopted and that allow a win-win even for Indra herself.

Having said that, we believe that the Government, although some of the reasons behind the latest decisions are understood, is completely missing the mark with the FCAS Program. It is time to stop, make an in-depth assessment of the context in which we operate, of the strengths and weaknesses of our defense industry, of the short, medium and long-term needs of the Armed Forces and, if necessary, of not repeat recent mistakes, embarking on projects that are not too big to failbut plain and simple to big to stand.

Bibliography and sources

[1] The European Technology Acquisition Program (ETAP) selects the most promising FCAS variants (4 November 2013).  Technology and Innovation Portal of the Ministry of Defense.

[2] Jimenez, H. (2020). Participation of the Spanish and/or European Defense Industry in the FCAS (Future Combat Air System). Complutense University of Madrid. [Master’s Thesis]

[3] Pannier, A. (2020). Complementarity or concurrence? The Franco-British cooperation and the European horizon of the French defense. Institute Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Strategic focus, 96. Complementarity or concurrence? The Franco-British cooperation and the European horizon of the French defense | IFRI – French Institute of International Relations

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[5] Airbus and Dassault Aviation sign Joint Concept Study contract for Future Combat Air System (February 6, 2019). GlobeNewswire.

[6] Pons, J. (2019). NGWS, a State Project. Spanish Defense Magazine, pp. 40-43.

[7] Oliver, D. (2021). Europe’s Competing Future Combat Air Systems. EDR Magazine 59

[8]  Rapport d’information n° 642 (2019-2020) by M. Ronan LE GLEUT and Mme Hélène CONWAY-MOURET, deposited on July 15, 2020.

[9] Journey Future Combat Air System (FCAS) organized by the Circle of Technologies for Defense and Security Foundation, Madrid, October 22, 2013.

[10] The Future Air Combat System will combine manned aircraft and UAVs (October 25, 2013).

[11] Colom, G. (2021). Defense planning in Spain. Sailing towards the 2035 horizon with a heavy backpack. Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies, Opinion Document 121/2021.

[12] Ministry of Defense (2020). Innovation Strategy for Defense ETID – 2020. Ministry of Defense, General Technical Secretariat.

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[16] Kofman, M. (July 11, 2019). The Ogarkov Reforms: The Soviet Inheritance Behind Russia’s Military Transformation. Russian Military Analysis [Blog].

[17] On the differences between Military Revolution and Revolution in Military Affairs see: Villanueva, C. (2018). Third Offset Strategy: Prelude to a Military Revolution? armies, 1.

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[19] Lanchester Laws. (August 30, 2019). In Wikipedia.

[20] Altman, H. (June 1, 2022). Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance ‘Fighter’ Program Enters New Stage. The Drive

[21] Ministry of Defense (September 28, 2022). National contracts for the NGWS/FCAS program.

[22] Martin, R. (2018). F-35 Vs Eurofighter. The European dilemma. armies, 4.

[23] Martin, R. (2021). Loyal Wingman: The next revolution in aerial combat? armies, 23

[24] Gutierrez, R. (2021). War drones: about drones and artificial intelligence in the Armed Forces. armies, 24

[25] Machi, V. (March 4, 2022). FCAS warplane program stalls, as Dassault and Airbus fail to reach key industrial deal. Defense News.

[26] Bronk, J. (2021). FCAS: Is the Franco-German-Spanish Combat Air Program Really in Trouble? RUSSIA.

[27] Soriano, G. (June 19, 2019). The Sedef advances that the industrial distribution of the FCAS will be decided in 2026. Infodefense.

[28] Brzozowski, A. (October 17, 2019). France and Germany ink compromise on arms export rules. Euractive.

[29] Rapport d’information n° 626 (2018-2019) by M. Ronan LE GLEUT et Mme Hélène CONWAY-MOURET, fait au nom de la commission des affaires étrangères, de la défense et des forces armées, deposited on July 3, 2019.

[30] Elizondo, M. (February 17, 2020). Coffee for everyone in the FCAS cast. Airbus, ITP, Sener, GMV, Tecnobit and Indra get orders. The Spanish.

[31] Gutierrez, R. (2020). A historic agreement. Analysis of the meeting between the Spanish government and Airbus, Ejércitos

[32] Indra (September 6, 2019). Indra nominated as national industrial coordinator of the FCAS program (Future European Fighter Plane).

[33] Jordan, J. (Host). (December 8, 2021). The Spanish defense industry in the face of changes in the strategic environment (No. 12) [Podcast episode]. In GlobalStrategy.

[34] Cozar-Murillo, B. (2022). Requiem for the Spanish defense industry. The War in Ukraine and the Spanish defense industry. armies, 34

[35] Garcia, J. (2011). Overview of the defense and security industry and technology. At the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies, The defense of the future: innovation, technology and industry (pp. 13-22), Strategy Notebooks, 154, Ministry of Defense: General Directorate of Institutional Relations.

[36] Surzur, J. (2020). Naval Group and Fincantieri: Naviris and après? Center for resources and information on economic and strategic intelligence.

[37] Top 100 for 2022 (2022). Defense News.

[38] Kaldor, M. (1986). the baroque armory. XXI century of Spain publishers.

[39] Navarro, J.M. (September 27, 2022). Indra calls the extraordinary shareholders’ meeting that will allow it to resume its entry into ITP. Basque Chronicle.

[40] Laurent, A. (July 5, 2021). With the FCAS, European Integration takes steps forward. European Data Journalism Network.

[41] The “group of 4” is understood to mean the group made up of Germany, France, Italy and Spain, countries with the most developed and strongest defense industry in the European Union. However, the current balance is likely to change shortly as a result of the investments that some partners are making in response to the war in Ukraine and the threat posed by Russia. See: Cozar-Murillo, B. (2022), on. cit.

[42] Dubois, G. (July 28, 2022). The US approved the sale of the F-35 to Germany for USD 8.400 billion. Aviationline.


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