At the Paris Air Show 2023 MBDA detailed the work being done to develop a full-scale airborne Expendable Remote Carrier (ERC) demonstrator, a key element of the FCAS programme
Head of the group’s FCAS programme, Jean Judde de Larivière, told EDR On-Line that the ERCs are being developed to enable the next generation air combat systems to fully operate in highly contested airspace. He said that the precise role of the ERCs has yet to be defined. Their mission could include suppression of enemy air defences, supporting deep strike missions by saturating or jamming air defences, operating with manned fighters on defensive and offensive counter-air missions, ground attack and anti-ship strikes. They could also act as decoys, or all of the above, which would be designed to confuse an enemy.
The MBDA demonstrator Expendable Remote Carrier (ERC) will be 4-metre long, weigh some 400 kilograms, fly at subsonic speed and have a one hour endurance. For MBDA, the crucial factor in finalising the ERC design will be the size and configuration of the New Generation Fighter’s internal stores bay, from which the ERC could be launched. With its modular design capable of carrying various payloads including sensors for intelligence-gathering, electronic warfare, and communications relay systems, a first flight of a technical demonstrator is planned for 2029 as part of the FCAS Phase 2. The ERC will be designed to feature fighter-like performance and manoeuvrability, enabling it to operate alongside manned fighters as a loyal wingman, Their manoeuvrability and low radar cross-section make them difficult to detect by enemy radars, although there would be occasions when they could be reconfigured to be highly visible to the enemy in their role of decoys to confuse the enemy’s radar.
By keeping the cost of the ERC relatively low, they could be used in large numbers, in possible swarms to saturate enemy defences. With Multi-Domain Combat Cloud they will have enhanced connectivity and exchange of information across all the other elements of the FCAS. Degrees of autonomous operation will be incorporated to offload the workload of the manned aircraft’s crew.
The ERC would be capable of launching from a wide range of platforms, from current combat aircraft such as Eurofighter and Rafale, large transport aircraft such as A400M, as well as ships, submarines, and land vehicles. Plans also call for the larger Remote Carriers to be used as launch platforms.
Graphics courtesy MBDA