The FCAS Air Combat Cloud will bring real-time intelligence to the forefront by harnessing the networked capabilities of different aircraft and platforms. Innovations in AI, big data processing and cyber will help make defence a truly collaborative mission.
Europe’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) will see next-generation manned jets flying alongside unmanned remotely piloted carriers of varying sizes. These assets will be part of a fully networked ‘system of systems’ based on open architectures that will allow the integration of other existing platforms such as the A400M or the A330 MRTT tanker. At the heart of this complex system will be the Air Combat Cloud, which will enable these platforms to work together.
But what exactly is an Air Combat Cloud? As FCAS Combat Cloud Product Solution Lead at Airbus, Ignacio Rosell is often asked this question.
“How does the Apple ecosystem work? We have an Apple iOS operating system that allows applications from different parties to be integrated, and all of this is supported by a communications infrastructure such as 5G, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If we apply this analogy to FCAS, we are developing an important part of the ‘Internet of Military Things’. Our mobile phones could be a fighter aircraft, an unmanned aerial system (UAS), a warship, a satellite, or even a soldier on the ground, each integrating different applications or, in other words, different capabilities. Our air combat cloud has the same components, the communications infrastructure, the operating system and the applications that allow them to operate in a collaborative way,” adds Rosell.
A Europe at the forefront of technology
Launched by France, Germany and Spain, and with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra as national industrial coordinators, FCAS is one of the most important European defence programme of the coming decades. In a context of growing global instability, the aim of the project is nothing less than to design an air defence system that will protect Europe while enhancing its strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty.
Speeding up the cycle with learning technologies
Airbus is leading the Combat Cloud pillar, with Thales and Indra as its main partners. This is one of seven areas of the next-generation FCAS technology (*see infographic below the page), headed at Airbus by Marc Paskowski.
It will provide common situational awareness by instantaneously capturing, sharing, fusing and processing massive amounts of data from all connected manned and unmanned platforms in a trusted manner, and transforming this data into actionable information by leveraging the ever-evolving learning technologies. “The concept based on the air cloud is that all elements must constantly interoperate with each other to form a cohesive system that is informed as one and combat as one,” says Paskowski.
“Our ‘operating system’ will need to be an open one to accommodate both off-the-shelf and bespoke applications such as manned-unmanned teaming, from Airbus or from any other industrial partner. It will be an evolutionary one, with new applications such as new aerial platforms being integrated along the way,” says Rosell. “Our business model around the Combat Cloud won’t be unique. An area such as satellite connectivity could be offered as a service, while an ‘app’ part of an aircraft’s mission system could be sold as a product,” he adds.
New Generation Fighter and Remote Carriers demonstrators connected to the Combat Cloud are planned for first flight in 2028/2029
The development of intermediate solutions as part of this ‘internet of military things’ should enable customers to use various levels of cloud capabilities and remote carriers well before FCAS becomes operational in the 2040s. For example, Airbus has already carried out the world’s first successful launch and operation of a Remote Carrier flight test demonstrator from a flying A400M.