Professor Keith Hayward, Head of Research, RAeS, reports on a recent high-level discussion on the future of the European defence aviation industrial base. [caption id="attachment_8186" align="alignnone" width="306"] Protecting Europe's combat aircraft industrial base - what next after Rafale? (Dassault).[/caption] Europe must invest soon to protect its combat aerospace industry. While existing and new fighter aircraft will sustain production into the 2020s, core technologies and the teams that support new equipment will disappear. This was the stark message from a conference organised by the French Air and Space Academy in Paris in May. Speakers from the armed services and industry were united in their commitment to the importance of maintaining European air power capabilities and a regional industrial base. From the outset, it was hard to separate the French and British airforce perspectives; there was clear evidence of a powerful convergence of operational experience expressed by General Denis Mercier, French Air Force Chief of Staff and Air Marshall Greg Bagwell, RAF Deputy Commander for Operations. Senior industry leaders from Cassidian, BAE Systems, Dassault, Thales and Alenia then underlined the importance of advanced defence technology in sustaining a world class European aerospace sector. In this respect there was again agreement on the need to support uninhabited aerospace concepts for their own sake and as a means of pushing forward a wide base of aerospace-related technologies. Although exactly how Europe was to fund and to organise itself to promote the most complex and expensive of future uninhabited systems was less clear. Finally, a mixed panel of political, military and industrial players offered a challenge to the aerospace sector in general. It could be they suggested that there were more radical forces at work, pointing towards a fundamental change in the nature of the aerospace industrial base. To concentrate solely on platform needs was perhaps to miss the implications of the next generation of combat aircraft. Many speakers had recognised the significance of the systems nature of UAS operations; but the wider  industrial implications might be that  a new set of industrial players as demonstrated in the IT sector over the last 20 years will emerge to satisfy the future needs of European armed services.

Tim Robinson
31 May 2013