Paris Air Show 2019 : MBDA provided today a fresh vision of future air warfare

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MBDA presents for the first time its vision of the capabilities that will lie at the heart of the next generation of European air combat systems.

As threats evolve and access denial strategies become ever more complex, with diversified effects combining surface-to-air and air-to-air assets in large scale, air superiority will need to be created on a local and temporary basis.

Aircraft and air effectors will need to be able to enter denied areas, see threats before being seen, force hidden threats to uncover early enough to suppress them and to always react quicker than the adversary.

In these ever faster operations, networked effectors will take an essential part in the combat ‘cloud’, exchanging tactical information and target co-ordinates in real-time with platforms and other network nodes, in order to carry out the desired operational effects.

These will also have to deploy robust survivability strategies in front of highly evolving threats.

The fight will not only take place between platforms but between enemy networks, and only the most agile and adaptable will win.

The engagement of these networked effectors will rely on resilience to any form of aggression (eg: Electronic Warfare, Cyber) as well as on rapid decision aids able to compute complex situations.

According to MBDA, these concepts form a coherent set of capabilities for Future Air System projects.

The new concept bears some similarities to the current US programs such as the Gremlins and Loyal Wingman, other elements rely on existing MBDA designs, such as SPEAR 3 and Meteor which will be fielded in the early 2020s.

These concepts cover the whole field of key domains:

  • Deep Strike with cruise missiles using the most advanced options in order to penetrate and open breaches in the most efficient A2AD (Anti Access Area Denial) deployments in the future, for the benefit of friendly forces.
  • Tactical Strike with stand-off, networked and compact armaments, delivering precision effects but also able to saturate enemy defences thanks to pack or swarm behaviours.
  • Air-to-Air Combat with, Meteor, which today has no equivalent and will keep its lead and remain a powerful asset for next-generation fighter aircraft.
  • Self-Protection with the ‘Hard Kill’ anti-missile system that will counter incoming missiles and so provide essential protection during ‘stand-in’ combat, when soft-kill counter-measures and decoys are no longer sufficient. Such a system is able to reverse the balance of power against saturating defences.
  • Enablers for the penetration of adversary defences thanks to the ‘Remote Carriers’ that deliver multiple effects, whether lethal or non-lethal, as well as new services for munitions such as intelligence, targeting, and deception of enemy sensors.
The subsonic deep strike variant is a stealthy weapon designed for external carriage on current or future aircraft. The proposed weapon will be the successor of MBDA’s Storm Shadow / SCALP EG currently known only as SPEAR 4. Most likely this will be a mix of weapons, that will include both subsonic and high supersonic cruise missiles, the later will be optimized for deep buried target penetration and attack of naval targets. Its stealthy design enables survivability in defended airspace. Photo: T.Eshel

The new concepts cover key domains of future air warfare including:

Deep Strike: MBDA’s concept for future deep strike features two types of cruise missiles (depicted in the dramatic artist rendering showing above) that will be optimized to penetrate and open breaches in advanced and cohesive modern Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) deployments. Such cruise missiles feature stealthy subsonic designs and supersonic strike missiles.

MBDA SmartCruiser. Photo: T.Eshel
Compact, lightweight strike weapons will be available in powered and gliding versions. Both configurations will be equipped with networking, collaboration, and intelligence for an autonomous swarm-like strike.
Six SmartGliders can be carried by each ‘smart rack’, enabling the smart, networked and autonomous weapons to carry out swarm-like attacks. Illustration: MBDA

Tactical Strike: extending the range of weapons beyond the reach of adversary short and medium-range air defense systems, compact weapons based on precision-guided powered and unpowered (gliding) weapons will be able to deliver precision strike from stand-off range, delivering precision effects but also able to saturate enemy defenses thanks to pack or swarm behaviors, relying on networking and collaboration between smart and affordable strike weapons.

Two years ago MBDA unveiled a similar compact weapon called ‘SmartGlider’ and SmartCruiser. T

wo versions were described – a light weapon, 2 meters long that weighs 120 kg. and a heavy version, at a weight of 1,300 kg.

The SmartGlider would be able to carry a 1,000 kg to deal with large and hardened infrastructures.

With a loadout of 12 to 18 SmartGlider Lights per aircraft, thanks to a Hexabomb Smart Launcher (HSL) capable of managing reactive strikes without affecting the pilot’s workload. As such, the SmartGlider Light will allow first-day-entry by saturating and destroying enemy air defenses.

The illustration above shows a ‘SmartCruiser’ similar to the SmartGlider design, with a miniature turbojet emplaced at the rear.

The strike weapons unveiled today are different from the heavy variant of the SmartGliger (shown in the illustration below) since the current approach favors strike weapons with a more stealthy design.

MBDA SmartGlider Heavy
MBDA Hard-Kill Anti-missile system. The miniature missile is 100 cm long and weighs about 10 kg.

The Meteor long-range Air-to-Air missile will remain a powerful asset for next-generation fighter aircraft, but the increasing sophistication and performance of missiles is likely to challenge existing self-protection means, based on electronic warfare and decoys.

MBDA considers adding a hard-kill anti-missile system, to counter incoming missiles, particularly ‘stand-in’ combat when soft-kill counter-measures and decoys are no longer sufficient.

Such a system is able to reverse the balance of power against saturating defenses.

Two versions of MBDA’s Remote Carriers. The light (100) and Medium (200). Both will be able to be carried internally or externally on multi-weapon carriers. Photo: T.Eshel
MBDA Remote Carriers

A new category of weapon is ‘Remote Carriers’, various air-launched autonomous platforms that deliver multiple effects, whether lethal or non-lethal, as well as new services for munitions such as intelligence, targeting, and deception of enemy sensors.

Two categories are considered, of weight classes of 120 and 240 kg.

Such remote carriers would function as baits and decoys, carry additional weapons ahead of the manned aircraft and closer to heavily defended targets, collect ISR or establish communications nodes.

Unlike today’s massive weapons weighing several tons, MBDA plans these future weapons to be compact airframes, enabling large loadout on current and future aircraft.

These missiles will share connectivity infrared and radio frequency sensors, performing data fusion and artificial intelligence for automated target identification in complex environments, threat detection, complex engagements planning, and decision aids will enable the weapons to pursue an attack with or without humans in the loop.

“We are ready to take on the challenge to deliver to our domestic nations the full sovereignty of their future air combat systems by taking part in the definition and development of the armaments that these systems will operate.” Éric Béranger, CEO of MBDA, stated.

Eying the successful development and deployment of the Meteor Air/Air missile, Béranger said he is confident MBDA will be equally able to develop the next weapons that will ensure European nations can sustain their air superiority in the long term.

Airbus has also developed a heavy variant of the ‘Remote Carrier’, designed for external carriage. This weapon was unveiled today at the Paris Airshow with the Future Air Combat System (FCAS).

MBDA and AIRBUS are developing different vehicles for the ‘Remote Carrier’ family. Airbus is developing the heavy variant while Airbus focus on the medium and light versions. The heavy (left) and medium (right) versions are shown in this picture taken at the Paris Airshow 2019. Photo: T.Eshel
The large Remote Carrier designed by Airbus will be launched from transport aircraft such as A-400M, thus maintaining the Next Generation Fighter (NGF) as stealthy as possible. Photo: T.Eshel

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