The Art of Dissuasion

When the French ambassador to Finland, Mrs. Cukierman, starts to talk about nuclear weapons in what ostensibly is a sales pitch for the Dassault Rafale as Finland’s next fighter, and is followed up by a company representative also getting into the fact that Rafale is nuclear-capable, you would be forgiven to think that someone from a competing eurocanard-maker has sabotaged their talking points. Finland and France both being longtime members of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, we are in fact again seeing something I have brought up numerous times on the blog: Rafale is something of an outlier when it comes to the HX-competition, both when it comes to the bid itself but also when it comes to marketing.

And once you accept that and get over the first shock of (figuratively) encountering the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré in Kaivopuisto – there turn out to be some good arguments in the French message this time as well.

The Rafale solo during the Kaivari 21 air show showing the stunning new special livery celebrating the space domain as well as the more traditional ones. Source: Own picture

Books have been written on France and its nuclear weapons, but in short France has a countervalue strategy, i.e. they will hurt you so much that it isn’t worth it. This did include the French curiosity of a ‘pre-strategic’ strike with an air-launched weapon taking place when vital French interest were threatened as a final warning to the enemy to stand down or face the full wrath of the French nuclear arsenal, but it is a subject of some debate whether this is still the plan. Still, even today the French place a high value on the airborne component of their nuclear weapons and have refused any political attempts at going SSBN-only like their British counterparts (also note that what is clear is that while the French see a use for low-yield weapons, these are not tactical weapons in French doctrine but simply smaller strategic ones). The point is, France places an extremely high importance on its independent nuclear deterrent, the Force de dissuasion, and for it to work as a deterrent everyone – friend and foe alike – needs to be absolutely sure that if the President gives the order, the result really will be fire and brimstone on the intended target. And the Rafale is chosen to be the bringer of that destruction.

In other words, it is a French vital strategic interest that the Rafale is reliable enough that it is mission ready 24-7-365. Cancelling a QRA scramble because of maintenance issues is embarrassing, cancelling a nuclear strike can mean the destruction of your country. Paris trust the Rafale to be ready if the call ever was to come, and practices the complete mission several times a year under the codename “Poker”. That is something else compared to promises of certain levels of availability by 2025.

The second point is equally important, and that is that the French trust the fighter to get through to its target regardless of when and where it sits. Granted the ASMP-A gives a certain matter of stand-off range (likely in the range of 300-500 km), but as you don’t get to chose your countervalue targets (rather, they can be expected to be found deep behind enemy lines and be rather well-defended) it doesn’t matter whether there is a so called ‘A2/AD-bubble’ in your way – you need to be able to punch through it. And here as well, Paris is confident that the Rafale can fight its way through anything thrown in its way. The SCAF and ASN4G may be on the horizon, but the Rafale will most likely still spend decades with the nuclear strike mission (note that the earlier Mirage 2000N was completely retired only back in 2018). All SCAF systems are to be in place around 2040, though that is both an ambitious timeline and likely more of an IOC than a FOC.

Now, the Finnish Defence Forces are decidedly conventional, but they still need to be sure of the same two things as their French counterpart: that their fighters are available and serviceable when called upon, and that they will be able to survive in hostile conditions both today and tomorrow, out to 2060. And there are few better guarantees that something will remain up-to-date than a major power seeing it as a vital national interest.

French fighters and an accompanying A330 MRTT which flew the non-stop 12 hour mission deploying to Tahiti earlier this year. Source: C. Vernat/AAE Facebook

As has been discussed on the blog earlier, the Rafale itself is a rather good for Finland. While the homeland oriented nature of the FDF means it isn’t going to fly to Tahiti any time soon, the ability to load up with extra fuel for extended endurance during air policing missions is nice. Using extreme low-level operations and advanced electronic warfare to operate within range of Russian sensors and weapons is also a nice feature which slots well into the kind of Goldilocks-transformation the FDF likes: building upon current Finnish CONOPS with evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrades. The French national security policy is also rather well aligned with the Finnish one in the main point that security needs to rest on sovereign capability, which then is backed up through multiple levels of partnerships and capabilities allowing common operations. The fact that this is the only ITAR-free offer is also worth noting, as even US companies struggle with the US export control bureaucracy enough that they see it as a selling point (see Boeing’s ATS). In the same way as BAES, the message of full freedom to operate the aircraft and all supporting systems is a key part of the offer, and even if Finland currently has a US-based model that apparently works well, it is hard to overstate the peace of mind the promised “immediate full autonomy” would bring in the post-Trump era.

But what exactly is in the BAFO? Dassault, never one to be overly talkative, takes the line of not commenting on numbers. This is less of worry in my personal view than BAES not doing the same, precisely because Dassault (as opposed to BAES) has overall taken a rather more closed policy when it comes to communications. Still, it would be nice to hear a ‘6x’ number as confirmation.

Instead, the official line is that the offer cover:

Replacing the capability in full now offered by 64 Hornets and adding new capabilities.

For weaponry, you won’t see a statement, but it is made clear that the graphics shown to the assembled media is no accident but tailored to accompany the HX media events. As such, quite a bit can be concluded.

Part of slide shown to Finnish media and showing expected operational loads based on the weapons offered in the BAFO. Picture source: Dassault Aviation

The first thing that pop out is that the French expect their love of external drop tanks to carry on to Finland in case of a win. While the Finnish Hornets regularly are seen with drop tank configurations typical of USN usage, I still believe the full three-can configuration to be somewhat overkill for Finnish everyday flights. In any case, that’s hardly the interesting detail here.

Top-centre is the full air-to-air load. Notable is that Dassault has unlocked two additional slots for the Meteor compared to the current AAE-configuration, bringing a total of four very-long range Meteors, two medium-range MICA IR with imaging infrared seekers, and two medium-range MICA EM with active radar seekers. The load is smaller than those sported by some of the competition (such as Eurofighter with six Meteor and two ASRAAM or Gripen with seven Meteor and two IRIS-T), but is still on the high end of what can be expected from an operational wartime load and will burn through missiles stocks at an impressive rate once you start flying at a high tempo. The additional Meteor-stations have long been identified and preliminary testing has been done, but up until now France has decided against investing in the final certification work.

An interesting option is the top-left one, which is an anti-ship loadout sporting a single AM39 Exocet radar-seeking antiship missile as well as the two Meteor and two plus two MICA for self-defence. From the original more careful wordings given during the early stages of HX it now seems evident that the Finnish Air Force is seriously considering kinetic anti-ship weaponry for the HX-platform. The current Exocet is a long way from the original weapon that wreaked havoc in the Falklands and in the Gulf during the 80’s, but the basic design is still the one the FDF prefers when it comes to killing ships: big, slow, with an active radar seeker and a serious warhead. The antiship weapon on offer is unlikely to be a deciding factor, but the Finnish Navy will most likely be nodding approvingly if they end up receiving air-launched Exocet support.

250 kg AASM being installed on a Rafale during operations in the Middle East. Picture courtesy of © Dassault Aviation – A. Paringaux

Bottom-left and -centre are more traditional air-to-ground modes with the French AASM ‘Hammer’ series of guided missiles (the baseline bomb is fitted with a rocket propulsion unit as well as guidance kit). The particular versions of this modular weapon family shown in the presentation is obviously somewhat difficult to deduce, but safe to say is that the left one shows three 1,000 kg weapons (to be introduced on the F4-standard) while the middle one shows the operationally used with six 250 kg weapons. Both loads also feature two MICA IR and two Meteor for self-defence.

The heavy-strike weaponry is shown in the lower-right corner, and unsurprisingly shows two SCALP (Storm Shadow) heavy cruise missiles as well as MICA IR and Meteor missiles. Nothing strange here, and this loadout as well is in operational use by the French Air Force.

The upper right is the most interesting one, as it shows an uniquely Finnish alternative which I believe hasn’t been discussed in any other deal. We have nothing less but four JSM missiles (as well as two MICA plus two Meteor). With the Exocet providing the heavy antiship missile and based on the material provided by Dassault back last year in Kauhava, it seems evident that this is the SEAD/DEAD weapon of choice for targets that are just a bit too dangerous for one to want to bring the AASM to the fight (although it would be a mean ship-killing one as well). How this fit the requirement of a standard aligned with the main user is unclear, and the hole in Rafale’s armament between the AASM and the SCALP is as far as I am aware of the only instance in HX where a contender has had to integrate a new capability to cover Finnish requirements (the Swedish political decision to buy whatever Finland does in case of a Gripen win obviously being something of an outlier). While there’s pros and cons of a signal-seeker compared to a more traditional weapon in the SEAD-role, the JSM isn’t necessarily a worse weapon in the role compared to something like the AARGM-ER, as while targeting becomes more complicated it will instead offer increased flexibility to affect other kinds of targets such as large TELs and C2/C3-nodes.

Parts of Libyan Palamaria SPGs that belonged to a group of six that were destroyed by Rafales on 19 March 2011. The Rafale started flying swing-role missions with the introduction of the F2 standard already back in 2006. Source: Bernd.Brincken via Wikimedia Commons

There has been some claims that the datalink used by the Rafale for the Meteor is suboptimal for the purpose as it is originally designed for use with the MICA. While Dassault isn’t commenting on that specifically, they did note that the Rafale has an advanced datalink for use both between aircraft as well as between weapons. This allows for, among other things, passive collaborative identification where fighters share data from passive sensors, and fuse the sensor data to provide identification and firing solutions. Another possibility is to hand over Meteor mid-course guidance to another Rafale, allowing e.g. a Rafale to close passively and fire the weapon, after which it turns away and a second Rafale with the radar active at stand-off range takes over the guidance of the missile. As major-general (ret.) Joel Rode was happy to point out, the important part isn’t so much to just carry the Meteor, but how you are able to integrate it into the aircraft’s subsystems and how you employ it. And here, Dassault is very happy with the work done. The upcoming MICA NG which will be online by the time the HX reaches full operational capability is also set to give a serious improvement to the short- and medium-range punch of the aircraft, with new seekers for both versions and a new double-pulse rocket motor which will not only give longer range but significantly improve manoeuvring towards the end of the engagement.

Backing up the passive capabilities, the SPECTRA and its associated systems have generally received high marks, and according to Dassault the system was described by Finnish officers taking part in an exercise of the MACE-series of NATO research and testing exercises for aircraft self protection systems and tactics in Slovakia as “The Reference” in terms of detection and jamming capability.

Speaking of the highly complex world of electronic warfare, Dassault is the only contender to offer a combination of single- and twin-seat fighters for general operational use. Perhaps the best description of the value of operational twin-seaters in HX was ironically enough provided by Saab back before the “alignment with the main user”-requirement stopped the inclusion of the 39F in their BAFO:

Often there are other drivers for and needs of a two-seat aircraft configuration that, in combination with the more traditional training-related benefits, makes it relevant to procure two-seat fighters. […] Gripen F with its two seats, naturally provides additional flexibility to handle very advanced missions where it may be advantageous to have an additional pilot or operator on-board. Examples are Electronic Warfare Officer, Mission Commander and/or a Weapon System Officer in the rear-seat.

Saab might have been unable to proceed, but as France uses a mixed Rafale B/C-fleet for operational missions, they are happy to run with it. As mentioned, the exact numbers aren’t provided, but Benjamin Gardette, HX campaign director, note that the Finnish Air Force mix of 57 single-seaters and 7 twin-seaters is good if you only want the latter as a conversion/training platform, but that if you want operational usage you probably want to increase the number of twin-seaters. To give a hint of the numbers that could be involved, my understanding is that currently two out of the five operational Rafale squadrons (not counting test and evaluation or OCU units, nor forward deployed ones) fly the twin-seater on complex strike missions, both conventional and nuclear. For a hypothetical 64 aircraft fleet, that would mean 26 twin-seaters. Saab was planning on offering 12 twin-seaters (18 % of the total fighter number), which is a number closer to what I would expect for Finland based on the current lack of WSO/EW-specialists in the fighter force as well as no need for the nuclear mission. Still, that is pure speculation on my part, and it would be interesting to see where the eventual number lands. It is also highly possible that the BAFO include options of adjusting the ratio either up or down from the figure suggested by Dassault.

For the industrial participation side of things, Dassault believe that “up to” 5,000 jobs could be the outcome once calculating both the direct and indirect ones. The number is high, but roughly in line with the figures released by Saab and BAES. This isn’t really surprising, considering that all five industrial participation packages aim to cover roughly similar sums. A more interesting detail of potentially higher importance is that Dassault mention that they offer “Intellectual Property Rights free of use”. IPR-regulations is a highly specialised legal field, so I will avoid straying too far into it as I am bound to get something wrong. However, on a high level one can safely conclude that the free use of IPRs is a big deal, and likely one that is easier for the European contenders to offer compared to the US ones.

Designed to master the best known adversaries, and upcoming threats

There’s no denying that the choice of Rafale would constitute a major shift in bilateral cooperative patterns for FDF in general and the Finnish Air Force in particular, and that it would be a surprising outcome of HX. There’s also nagging questions about the cost and availability of quick refills of weapon stocks of the rather unique weapons offered with the aircraft, and France’s willingness to sell high-tech systems and platforms to anyone with money (including Russia) raises political concerns. Still, there’s much to be said for why the Rafale makes sense for Finland, including not only the performance of the platform itself but also how it slots into the Finnish concept of operations and the sovereignty it offers. The unique selling point of a combat-capable twin-seat fighter can also turn out to be quite the ace in their sleeve if it plays out well in the FDF wargames. The announcement of HX could well turn into a watershed moment in Finnish national security, but further increasing the attention the French armed forces give to developments around the Baltic Sea would hardly be a bad outcome in and of itself. Even as a conventional platform, there’s definitely a certain amount of dissuasion the canard born next to the Côte d’Argent would bring along to Finnish skies.

49 thoughts on “The Art of Dissuasion

  1. JayJay

    Great post, thank you !
    Worth also noting the Talios pod for air to ground configurations.
    To me, performance / operational considerations would give HX to Rafale.
    Political considerations will however probably give it to LM. We’ll see !

  2. Mike

    Great analysis.
    I think the Rafale is THE candidate for HX (and i understand the concerns about the french making business with the russians!). Best deal due to the Rafale is “free to modify as you wish”.

    The concerns about the weapons are therefore neglectable, as Dassault offers “freedom of use of the fighter”, you can certify it for IRIS-T or any other weapon Finland wants to use with the Rafale…

    Sure certifying new weapons for a fighter costs good money, AND if Dassault would overcome its pride and certify the Rafale for Sidewinder, Amram and all the other weapons used in the countries they want to sell the Rafale to, would probably be THE sales-pitch of the millenium, but it might be worth it! With the Rafale, you can do ANY modification you want.

    It’s not like Finland does NOT have experience in that area, just look what happened with the F-18C:

    every upgrade of the software, or modification to the plane (eg. Finland was the 2nd country to use the airflow-disruptors developed by swiss RUAG, to prevent structural damages on the rudders!) must be greenlight by the US. You can’t certify for another weapon, no software-change, no ammendmends on the body of the plane (replacing/reenforcing the structure aso) no change in eg. the pilots clothing (in the early 2000s, swiss airforce wanted to experiment with the “Libelle”-anti g-suit originally developped for the Typhoon. Not greenlight by the US).

    This will gonna be a major issue for both F-18E and especially the F-35! Need to change something? Ask the US-ambassador for the request-form…

    I think, a eurodelta, especially Gripen or Rafale, would be the best choice for Finland, even if it should be a bit more expensive or less “advanced” than the american offers, even if the Lockheed-offer might be tempting “cheap” (have a look at switzerland; VBS published parts of the contract, the numbers they quoted are only guaranteed for 10 years, so is the sparepart-supply! …”those who buy cheap…”)

    1. Finland has been very clear from the outset that experience with developing and integrating unique weapons and equipment they have had is not something they wish to continue doing. Yes, it can be done, but it’s expensive and resource-intensive. That’s why there’s been a heavy focus on not being the sole user as well as alignment with the standard flown by the main user.

      1. Mike

        I understand that!
        Still – it is a big “plus” for the Rafale. It is not just about the weapons!
        Pls. refer to the “you have to ask the US if you want to change something” and the thing with the Libelle-test of Swiss Air Force:

        The G-Zelle (Libelle-successor), the military version of the suit they use at the Red Bull AirRacing events, does not need a connection to the aircraft, no modification needed while it is giving the pilots more “resistance” for high G-forces than the normal airpressured anti-g-suits.
        …with US-jets, you can’t use them except the US allows it, as the pilot-suits are integrated part of the fighters.
        With the Rafale Finland could equip its pilots with the G-Zelle, and fly maneuvers more g-intensive than the others can.

        Now imagine Finland needs some special part on the Rafale for whatever. …just mount it. With the US-jets, you call the ambassador to get the request-forms and hope for the best… (think of the airflow-disruptors of the F-18C!)

        Also, as written:
        Dassault would land the salespitch of the millenium if they would just go forward and certify the Rafale for the IRIS-T, Sidewinder and Amram.
        It’s not like most interested Rafale-Buyers in Europe are using these missilees – if you have to replace the whole armory when buying a jet, this has a giant impact on the budget, and is a giant plus for those sellers who have certified their fighters for these weapons…

        One of the advantages of the Gripen: it can carry EVERYTHING, you can buy new, but also reuse the old missiles aso…
        (without a budget of the US armed forces, reusing weapons has a giant impact on the purchase decission)

  3. trollhunter

    Great post as always Corporal.
    Just a few things:

    There’s a small typo. It’s not “ANS4G”, it’s “ASN4G”. It stands for “Air-Sol Nucléaire de Quatrième Génération. Or Air to Ground, Nuclear, Fourth (4th) Generation.

    “it seems evident that this is the SEAD/DEAD weapon of choice for targets that are just a bit too dangerous for one to want to bring the AASM to the fight (although it would be a mean ship-killing one as well).”
    Well, as of now, it seems unlikely the AASM could engage a moving ship, even with its laser version. Even if the weapon can indeed engage moving targets, a ship is a kind of target of its own, for which advanced modes are needed. The same goes for the IR version. Even if every AASM has at least GPS-Galileo/inertial guidance.
    For a slow ship with very predictable movement, or a docked ship, however, this may be possible.

  4. Jojo

    Good analysis, I would just have one remark:
    There was a time when France tried to make friends with Russia, but it’s over since Georgia invasion.
    And anything Rafale related has never been on the table for Russia.

    1. Herciv

      Don’t believe its totally over between France and Russia. We don’t take russian as hostile as chineses then the door is still open when their policy can be more european oriented.
      In France we need to find an equilibrate line between US and Russia an d more important we need to build a european way of thinking.

    2. The T-72B3 with Thales-supplied equipment at the heart of the FCS was kicked off in 2010, the Mistral-contract was also signed in 2010 (it was nice to cancel it after Crimea, but thei dea of selling them at all two years after Georgia and then taking quite a while before finally cancelling the deal didn’t inspire confidence here in Eastern Europe), and we have seen movement by France to normalise relations with Russia post-Crimea that seem, let’s say, overly enthusiastic considering Russia still occupies part of the Donbas, has annexed Crimea, and generally behaves poorly on anything from MH17 accountability to doping in international sport to cyber hacking. I understand that things look different from the opposite corner of Europe and we certainly need some kind of dialogue also with less sympathetic countries, but there certainly is a difference in how Russia is viewed.

      1. Herciv

        That’s exactly what I wanted to say. I totally agree with you.
        Sorry for the bad post above.

  5. Herciv

    What do you mean ?
    When I read between the line, you think that France could have offer to Finland to have the same nuclear asset (ASN4G) since a counter-value strategy could be well adapted to Finland ?

    1. Absolutely not, the point made by the French representatives was that the nuclear mission makes the Rafale well-suited also for challenging conventional missions and that the importance ensure Rafale stays up to date. Neither Finland nor France has *any* interest in Finland becoming nuclear, and I certainly agree with that.

      A second discussion which isn’t related is that of extended deterrence, where French politicians have been talking about the European aspect of the French vital interests that could trigger nuclear release. Paris calling Moscow in case of a crisis and saying that nuclear use against Finland might lead to a limited French nuclear intervention is a political question, and while certainly very helpful for Finland, it raises the question if France is ready to gamble Toulouse for Turku? But again, that is unrelated to HX.

  6. Ferpe

    The Rafale was early in being pretty complete in Air to Air and Air to Ground. Combine it with the first European AESA radar, AESA ECM, and it goes a long way to explain the victories in the Indian and Swiss Fighter evaluations 10 years ago.

    State of the art has moved on since, and by today’s standards Rafale shows deficiencies, some of which are addressed by F4, others not.

    The gravest over the years are the lack of a real-time link and HMDs.

    A real-time fighter link enables Wolfpack tactics (Link 16 is not a real-time link). Gripen has it since 1997 with TIDLS, F-35 got MADL, F-18 gets it with Block III (TTNT). Rafale has been missing this capability all along and will only get it when the radios go soft with F4. When Typhoon got it is not clear.

    Almost as severe is the lack of an HMD. Armee de l’Air has bragged about MICA’s over-the-shoulder capability; only you can’t target it; you have no HMD. The others have had it for 20 years; Rafale only gets a line fit with F4.

    There are other holes measured with an HX yardstick:

    The radar, while being early with AESA, lacks the MFA high-gain ESM/ECM functions. APG-81 (F-35), APG-79 (F-18E), and Raven (Gripen E) have it now. Rafale gets it by 2025, the same timing as the Typhoon with ECRS2.

    The SPECTRA EW suite lacks several vital functions by today’s standards. The GaAs AESA jammer that gave it the initial fame lacks low band coverage (search radars are left undisturbed) and, more gravely, the all-important angular deception techniques against today’s monopulse radars/missiles.

    The AESAs have neither Cross-pole nor Cross-eye (the baseline is missing), and there is no Towed/ Exp. Decoy to compensate. The Typhoon DASS has it all, as have the Gripen E MFS-EW. F-35 and F-18E have at least a towed decoy.

    The conspicuous holes in SPECTRA continue with the lack of an IR lock-on deception. It’s crucial as break-lock flares efficiency against imaging seekers is iffy. So, you need high endurance pre-emptive flaring against these, and when takeoff and landing, should an enemy sneak a MANPAD in the area (the short distances makes the MAW+Break-lock flare sequence marginal). This is also why FIAF retrofitted its F-18C with BOL dispensers. Gripen and Typhoon have these out the chute.

    The F-35 is naked in this respect (there are pyrophoric flares in the inventory, but the capacity isn’t there), and the Navy thinks they don’t need it. They start and land at the boat, so MANPADS shouldn’t be there. Only the Navy can explain how this can exclude the MAW (no MAW on any F-18, including Block III).

    So the Rafale is capable. It has an impressive payload capability, even though the weapons suite needs complementing to HX standards. But it also has stuff missing, surprisingly many in the hyped SPECTRA suite.

    1. Pat

      – Every Qatari and Indian Rafale have been equiped with Targo II hmcs since their delivery
      – Indian Rafale can be equiped with X-guard towed decoys, they have flown with it
      – Indian Rafale are equiped with a low band jammer on the front of the tailfin array, under a black hooding, integrated to the spectra suite
      – Spectra can launch flares and chaffs by itself, preemptively and without any action from the pilot, it is a capability inherited from Spirale by MBDA.
      – LEA (Leurre Electromagnétique Actif) is on the way and is featured with F4

      Indeed F4 will include the software based radio contact which will open the way for a directionnal datalink, but also an AESA SATCOM, formerly known as SAKaR and nowadays as Antarès-LP. Very little information about it though.

      I know the lack of communication about the Rafale from both Dassault Thalès the ministry of defense and the french and foreign armed forces is to blame, and you may have a point about some elements (although some people in the know may disagree) but some of your points have been invalid for at least 5 years.

  7. THalken

    It’s a sad fact that EU sat out the development of a 5 gen fighter. As the F22 is not being exported, there is only the F35 or 4 gen planes. Ask the French MoD if they would prefer a F35 over the Rafale for the nuclear mission. I think I know the answer to that. Likewise, the argument for two-seaters is a lack of automation of the systems that the pilot needs to operate, putting a high workload on the pilot. So it is not a good argument.
    Seeing one of the 4 gen staying relevant in a peer conflict to 2050 is difficult at best even with an external EW asset such as the Growler. The USN has stopped procurement of 4gen fighter platform for the same reason.
    The most substantial argument against the F35 is the sovereignty of the system, but that cuts both ways. US has deep stocks of missiles to draw on in a conflict. So it is both a risk and an advantage.
    While Switzerland due to their location could have gotten a cheaper euro canard, Finland is not so lucky with its neighbourhood.

    The Russian trolls might disagree.

    1. Mike

      Well, Generation 5 differes from 4++ only in passive stealth.
      And that causes some severe issues (think aerodynamics), and with modern radar-systems you can track them, too (it does not make a jet invisible)

      They just skipped the 5. Generation, going right for Generation 6:

      Tempest (UK/Sweden/Italy) is in development, shall have its maidenflight in 2025 and shall replace the first tranches of the Eurofighter in the UK from 2035 on (I think 2040 is more realistic with the current speed of the development).

      Germany and France are building the FCAS, similar timeframe. France plans to replace the Gripen in 2060 with it, Germany its Typhoons a bit earlier (I think it was 2050).

      With active ECM as the Eurodeltas are using, you can have similar advantages as with passive stealth, while circumventing the bad aerodynamics aso…

      IMHO, if all european buyers of jets atm (Finland, Austria, Switzerland) would play together with one of the 6Gen-projects, we ALL could profit from it. It would also free resources as a fighter-purchase only would be needed for a timeframe until the Gen6 is flying – eg. Tempest in 2040 – that’s just 19 years from now, one could cover these with some 2nd hand fighters, while the money goes into the Gen6-project…

      Solving all the issues countries have to deal with now…

      BUT that’s just my opinion.

      1. Borén

        “With active ECM as the Eurodeltas are using, you can have similar advantages as with passive stealth, while circumventing the bad aerodynamics aso…”

        The problem with this statement is that stealth and EW are not competitive but rather complimentary technologies since lowering aircraft’s cross section will lower the energy needed to jam the radar (or lower the burn-through range) – or conversely increase the effectiveness of jamming.
        Since stealth aircraft generally have orders of magnitude lower RCS the stealth aircraft also have a massive advantage in EW.

      2. Ferpe

        Yes and no.

        The higher J/S (where S is proportional to RCS) discussion is correct, but Stealth and Noise/False target jamming both aim to reduce the likelihood of detection with radar-based systems. So these can be used as alternative approaches. There are wider considerations than simple J/S ones, however.

        The advantage with Stealth, if successful, is its non-revealing, it enables covert operation. But it’s object-specific, no other asset is protected. A stealth machine that jams is recognizable, the cloak is then gone and you are left with the negatives. At present Stealth systems do not have competent ECM, partly for this reason, partly because ECM apertures are by nature non-stealthy.

        Jamming is in most cases recognizable, so no covert operation. But it projects all assets in its coverage, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Civilian assets (movements, re-groupments). Competent jamming is therefore necessary anyhow, as it’s a broad brush where Stealth is a fine tip pen.

        Ideally, you can afford both (and NATO can, why it has both asset classes). If not, it’s not clear-cut which is preferred.

    2. Mike

      Btw – if you think of one of your neighbors being an enemy, don’t wonder when hostilities arise…

      As for Switzerland: I agree – a eurodelta would have been the better choice (Swiss defense-dept published numbers: low prices and spareparts are only guaranteed for 10 years. (pls. see the “Air2030” project-page on vbs .admin .ch))

      Also, “with friends like these, who needs enemys”, a little recap on how friendly swiss neighbor-countries are:
      – Italy gave Lybia the ok to use its airspace AND airbases for refule&rearm when Ghaddafi said he wanted to attack Switzerland
      – Germany let two polish Mig29 (with live weapons!) trough its airspace, the Migs have been intercepted over St. Gallen in 2018 (or was it 2017? I can never remember the year of that incident), also Germany has a story of emposing political pressure on Switzerland whenever they want. They used the same tactics for the Air2030-deal! “we forget this and that issue if you buy ours” – while the isses were newly created… (check swiss newsmedia about them, from 2019 until 2021 “pressure from germany”)
      – Austria agreed to some cooperation for securing the airspace (as their Typhon TR1 look good on the ground i guess?), Switzerland pays and does surveillance and intercepts over westaustria for the austrians, Austria says it is friends with Switzerland now…
      – France demands good money if they have to accompany an airspace-intruder to Geneva, but otherwhise is the only reliable neighborcountry Switzerland has…

      I guess each country has “such neighbors”, but there’s an old saying “countries don’t have friends, they have interests”. …just look at the debate about nordstream2 and the european need for natural gas; since we’re fed with the fracking-gas from the US (where drinking water starts burning), the gas-heaters act up and need more regular cleanings (official announcement: those using gas-heaters have to get them professionally cleaned twice a year due to the fracking-gas!)…

      (refer to the first paragraph of this post… For a weapons-deal i’d say it’s better to look at it from the perspective of “who puts on the LEAST pressure to buy their stuff” – might lead to the best decission…)

    3. someone

      “Ask the French MoD if they would prefer a F35 over the Rafale for the nuclear mission. I think I know the answer to that.”

      Is your answer “the aircraft that carries its nuclear weapon as a long-range supersonic missile, instead of the aircraft that carries its nuclear weapon as a dumb old gravity bomb where you need to fly right on top of the target” ? Because if so, I agree.

      I do not believe the F-35 would be able to fit an ASMP-A in its weapon bays, so for the sake of a standoff weapon (and one not controlled by a foreign power, since sovereignty is a key part of French nuclear deterrence), your hypothetical French F-35 would have to carry it externally, ruining the F-35’s supposed main advantage of stealth shaping. The F-35 also exists in single-seat only, while traditionally French air force nuclear deterrence has always been tasked to twin-seaters so that the pilot focuses on piloting and the WSO focuses on the attack mission.

      It’s as if the Rafale was designed to fit the French needs as best they can, while the F-35 was designed to fit some completely different needs that did not incorporate at all the French doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Weird, that. Truly astonishing.

    4. JayJay

      I think actually quite the opposite regarding Swiss vs Finland. In fact, truth be told, Swiss does not really need fighters aircraft. So for Swiss, buying fighters is just an opportunity to do politics. And to enter into negotiations with the new US administration, especially regarding the numerous issues with Swiss banks at the moment, under close watch by US financial watchdog. So buying the F35 is only that, politics.
      For Finland the game is totally different: Finland really needs a good fighter. And I think Finland is less dependent on the US than Swiss. So here the politics may be of lesser importance, and let place to another factor: the actual performance of the fighter, and how it will most probably evolve in the next 40 years. That’s where the Rafale may get an edge on the F35.

      1. Mike

        Don’t forget: the evaluation started in 2018, the planes evaluated in 2019; no “new administration” there.

        Also not politics:
        I remember someone in this blog (not you) constantly mentiones the threat of russia towards Finland, how France can’t be trusted aso…

        Look: we had armed polish Migs entering our airspace without our “good friend germany” warning. We have the EU constantly closing down our boders. The USA constantly blackmailing our country., and ALL neighborcountries making it abundandly clear “they’ll not help us” (eventough treatys are in place!)

        Also NEVER forget that Switzerland is the protection-“force” of the RedCross. All workers from the RC are going into crisis-areas with swiss diplomatic passports. We have the UNO-HQ in Switzerland (NewYork is just the most used 2nd HQ). Ok we can debate “should the WEF while it was here have been defended”. Buttom line is:

        So we don’t buy jets to make politics, we need to be able to defend our airspace.
        (which is only possible if there’s 100% control over the fighter itself, its systems, the spareparts AND componentes to be “ammended to local requirements”. Guess what: the F-35 is down to the last screw, completly the opposite.)

        BUT I do agree: an airforce with only 36 Fighterjets is a freakin’ joke.
        Sadly, so is one consisting of only 64; especially when the whole mission-readyness depends solely on ONE country (where the maintenance-system is hosted)…

        Never forget the saying “a country doesn’t have friends – it has interests”.
        HX or Air2030 – the interest is: being able to defend the countrys airspace.
        (except HX is for “attacking russia, that is)

        …now select the fighterjet best suited for the interest and fitting the requirements of the airforce…

  8. TNi

    Jojo, France sold Mistral class amphibious assault ships or BPCs to Russia in 2010 (the Georgia attacks happened 2008) and was more or less forced to cancel the sell due to very heavy international pressure only after Russia occupied Crimea and attacked Ukraine in 2014. And at that point the technology transfer to Russia had almost certainly happened fully.
    This of course does not take anything away from the French contenders technological/military capabilities but may have other implications as CF noted.

  9. Herciv

    I have fond this very interrresting article about the french senate questionning the french forces (navy and air force could be added) about rusticity.
    Id est :
    1 – the capacity to stay on operation without any maintenance
    2 – the capacity to rely on low l’évolution technology composent.
    The second point of the senate is to be able to see coming conflicts.
    How is it about Finland Hx ?

  10. Matias

    Nice article on the Rafale, which is an good lightweight fighter but France has problems exporting it to other countries, which is why as you have said, it would be a very big surprise if it was selected by Finland HX. As Military Watch Magazine has mentioned:

    “A major impediment to the Rafale’s success is that it combines a high cost with a very light and unspecialised airframe, meaning that for countries seeking out a high end fighter they will be inclined to look towards something heavier and more capable like the F-15 or Su-35, while for those seeking a cheap medium or lightweight fighter the F-16V, F-18E or MiG-35 would be more cost effective. The Rafale has lost the vast majority of its export bids as a result, from South Korea and Singapore which selected the powerful F-15, to Egypt which turned down offers for second Rafale batches for the Su-35, and Brazil, Oman, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait which all rejected the jets for other Western medium or lightweight designs such as the F-16 and F-18.”

    With the latest biggest losses was to the F-35A in Belgium and Switzerland.

    The full article is at:

    1. Curious about how lightweight is defined here for a 24.5 t MTOW twin-engined aircraft? I mean, granted that’s less than a F-15 or Su-27, but I’d still argue that’s mediumweight.

    2. someone

      Egypt turned down a second batch so hard that they’ve ordered 30 more and are planning a third batch to reach 100 aircraft.

      The Rafale is bought by countries that need a combat-ready aircraft so that they can fight by themselves. It’ll never be bought by countries that need a Big Brother Intervention Token so that the USAF will arrive to fight for them, which is why it will not sell in Europe — with the exception of Greece, because the threat to Greece is a NATO ally, and one far too geopolitically important for the USA to cut loose. (Croatia is an anomaly, that country should have bought second-hand F-16 from Israel but the Americans got greedy and nixed that sale so as to propose brand-new F-16 for three times the price. France took opportunity of this American blunder to grab an unexpected sale. I doubt such circumstances would happen again.)

      1. Matias

        Norway, Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Poland are some European countries that have bought the F-35 and I do not think they consider the US as a big brother but more as a partner. In addition 25 countries have the F-16 and I do I admit some buy US because of the support they receive. Normally the Rafale wins in countries that the US has turned down or it does not compete.

      2. Mike

        Yeah and MANY of the stated countries regret the decission already.

        Here in Switzerland for eg. the argument “F-35 being the cheapest candidate” is already negated (prices only guaranteed for 10 years after signing the contract, not after delivery), and MANY concerns are arising already, even before the GSoA (group switzerland without army) launched the collecction of signatures! Ranges are from “why do we need an attacker” to “do we realy want to let our pilots do their first flighthour in a jet in a singleseater” and many other arguments i’ve raised (i hate being right.)

        Also, many pilots who resigned in the last 3 years start to speak up that the PILOTS prefered the Rafale – it’s not like THEY know what the fighter needs to do, and which’d fit the tasks best, right?

        (also – Biden visiting Switzerland two weeks before the decission, talking to federal counsil Amherd (the defence-minister) about “businesses” – c’mon)

      3. Matias

        Any country currently flying F-18 Hornets, like your country and Finland and want to stay with a 4th gen fighter, should just upgrade to the F18 Super Hornet/Growler. Even though it looks similar, it is a bigger and brand new fighter, but the turn around would be a lot quicker since there is an about 60 % overlap on parts, processes, etc., plus all your missiles can be used and if necessary the pilots can probably get off the Hornet and get on the Super Hornet. That would save a lot of money and time, but if you want a fifth gen fighter there is only one.

        I agree on the Biden visit, but that is politics, but you should finished with – c’mon man!!! that is what Biden is famous for saying all the time.

      4. Mike

        True. Or even “if the airforce using legacy Hornets want to upgrade, take a cheap(er) Gen 4++ and partake in the Gen6-projects (like Tempest or FCAS in europe)”

        As for Switzerland, the F-16V would have been “the most perfect” choice.
        a) the F-16 won the evaluation back in 1988, but the federal counsil decided for the F-18 (…and the original F/A-18 was mainly an attacker, having lots of issues being misused as fighter (lots of structural problems in CH))
        b) from the price, it would have been easy to get 44 jets instead of 36. (now: 36. Eg. 40 single-seater -V, 4 “latest doubleseater”)
        …also the americophiles (those saying european jets are worthless) would have been satisfied…

        Well. The initiative will come, and be won. Ending swiss airforce, but that’s another topic i wrote extensivly about in the recent articles of Corporal Frisk…

        As for the HX, that’d be an option too, if the rally between the candidates should be TOO close: get the F-16V, use up the armory of the F-18c, partage with Gen6, as for the antifrench resentiments: Tempest, and skip the Gen5-issues.

        (especially after the last GAO-report – whoever says “buy the F-35” NOW, IMHO simply ignores the reality and gets blinded by LM’s promisses)

      5. Matias

        I agree, the F-16V should of been in the mix in both countries, but maybe it did not meet the requirements. I know the support for the F-35 is split in Switzerland, but not sure if it would be wise to reverse the decision, since Switzerland could damage its credibility and in the future military companies could be reluctant to place a bit since no matter who is the fair winner it could be reversed.

      6. Mike

        I’m not going into detail here about the decission in Switzerland (pls go to the comment-section of the blog-entry of Corp. Frisk, you’ll find MANY comments from me for this topic 😉

        As for the F-16V: if the Superhornet fits the requirements, the F-16V does even better.
        Issue: F-16V is Lockheed-Martin. The F-16V is the last iteration of the Falcon (there’s just so much to be done with the plattform). It is WAY more modern and better equiped as the Superhornet, BUT:
        LM needs – or should i write: MUST – find customers for the F-35 to be able to continue the program.
        …Turky (100 units) out of the equation, USAF going from 3000 to 2000 units (wouldn’t be surprised if they’d freeze the current delivered units at the almost something over 1000!), UK reducing the order for the F-35A by 45% (and accelerating the Tempest-project!), many european countries not so happy about the 35A when it boils down to maintenance, spareparts, the USAF searching an alternative to the 35A-engine, GAO-report…
        …now imagine what Lockheed will lose if the 35A-project stalls and crashes. There are contracts ensuring continued development for the buyers (except Switzerland – only guaranteed for 10years!!), Upgrade 4 – the first serial version of the F-35A – already delayed up to 2035 (with severe impact for BOTH Switzerland and HX: the evaluations are of “upgrade 3” but purchase-decission will be about upgrade4-level!!!

        LM would cut its own flesh if they’d offered the F-16V right next to the F-35A…

      7. someone

        “Norway, Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Poland are some European countries that have bought the F-35 and I do not think they consider the US as a big brother but more as a partner.”

        Oh come on, Poland even talked about building a Fort Trump Military Base to host US troops currently stationed in Germany. That’s not the attitude one has towards a “partner”. All the countries that bought the F-35 are countries that want the US to intervene to save their bacon in case of serious war. None of them think they can, could, or should attempt to be able to defend themselves with their own means.

      8. Matias

        I actually agree with you, what Poland is saying is we can not rely in Europe to help us in our defense and prefer to have US as our closest allied, probably that is why they are building a fort to house a tank unit, buying F-35 and will be buying 250 M1A2 tanks.

        But Germany decided to buy some F-18 Super Hornets and Growlers and also the P8 Poseidon, to fill gaps that can not be met by European (Airbus) Military Industry.

    3. JayJay

      Difficult to find a more bull**** article, sorry to say… Lightweight, the Rafale ? Egypt which refuses a second batch of Rafales ? No success of Rafale on the export market ?
      Come on, please be serious on this blog. At least try to inform yourself.

      1. Matias

        Well that hit a nerve, but numbers do not lie, aircraft built so far: F16 (4500), F-15 (1200), F-18 (1500), F-35 (645) and Rafle (237), but cool, I get it, you love the Rafale.

  11. Randomvisitor

    So get good enough for now, go for/take part development of Gen6 soon as possible, as some people are suggesting?

    Not gonna happen, i mean Air force going to government:
    Remember those fighter’s we bought for 10 billion euro’s, and are still paying the debt?
    Well we wanna replace them now… No, not gonna happen.

    And does anyone actually believe FCAS and Tempest will fly when promised now?

    FCAS will probably will delayed when Germany and France end up wanting different specs, and IF it ever reaches production, and in what form…

    And Tempest, even if you have single vision and money to use, still creating Gen6, or any kind of advanced military from start is not simple.

    1. Matias

      I agree, it is easy to promise a 6th gen fighter, form a committee, give it an acronym, fund it and display a plastic model of what it would like. I mean Spain purchased 24 Tiger helicopters (yes helicopters) and it took about 13 years from the first one to the last one they received. The delays were probably from the reasons you mention to include everybody wants something different.

    1. JayJay

      Interesting article, thank you for sharing.
      I don’t know if the Afghan crisis will be a game changer in HX, but for sure it’s a cruel reminder to all of the Europeans who think that for ensuring their own security, they just have to buy the American protection via weapons purchases. This was true before, but not anymore. The change of US posture, begun under Obama, continued with Trump, is continued again by Biden : in a word, withdrawal from Europe and focus on APAC. The European countries will need now to rely more and more on themselves and on their European allies. Re the HX, 3 fighters are European. Gripen has however strong links with US industry. Euro fighter is not ITAR free.

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