We have attended the 54th International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget.
After four years the aircraft industry reunited again at Le Bourget, for the 54th Paris Air Show. A total of 380,000 visitors gathered at the show ground during the entire week. The show started on Monday, June 19, and ended on Sunday, June 25 (the first four days are reserved for trade visitors and the weekend for the general public). About 2,500 exhibitors from 46 countries and 150 aircraft occupied an area of 125,000 sqm. The amount of contracts signed during the trade days was more than impressive, totalling approximately 150 billion USD; that’s more than the GDP of Morocco! Here is a quick summary, far from complete, of what was on display and the most important news from the show, focusing only on the military sector.
As always, the show was inaugurated on Monday morning by the French President Emmanuel Macron. There were plenty of delegations in the chalets and on the static display area during the trade days: the organizers reported 222 Official Defence and Institutional Delegations from 97 countries. Russia was, of course, the great absent. Compared to the previous edition in 2019 (the air show was cancelled in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), there were also less “exotic” aircraft like the JF-17 Thunder or the Kawasaki P-1.
During the trade days the flight program was limited to around three hours and even shortened on Thursday because of bad weather. It was nevertheless possible to admire the traditional but always fascinating demo of the Dassault Rafale. The impressive F-35A of the USAF showcased the capabilities of this aircraft, presenting its great qualities also at low speeds and high g-s. The only two other fighter display during the trade days were on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Belgian F-16 Solo Display in “Dream Viper” livery and the Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon (only Wednesday).
Airbus and Embraer showed off their airlifters, the A400M and KC-390 Millennium respectively (with stickers to celebrate the full operational capability reached by this type of aircraft). A special mention goes also to the A400M with the tail art “Defender Europe 2023” of the German Luftwaffe that paid a quick visit on Wednesday and took off during the exhibition of the Pipistrel Velis Electro.
The helicopter displays of the H-665 Tigre and the NH-90 were enriched by a quite spectacular civilian H160 (the military version of which is scheduled to be delivered to the French Armed Forces starting from 2026).
Static display and selected announcements
The military static display was also dominated by French/European made aircraft. Airbus showcased an A330MRTT already in the livery of the French Air Force (the aircraft it is the 11th tanker of this type to enter service in the Armée de l’Air and was delivered to its new home in Istres at the beginning of July); a Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon; a C295 MSA with provisional Spanish markings that was then delivered to the Irish Air Corps on June 27, 2023; a German H145M with shark nose art; a Hungarian H225M; a mock-up of the H125M and a H175M at the stand of the French Armed Forces.
The drones were presented too, with the mock-up of the Eurodrone (the first flight is scheduled in 2025) and of the UAS VSR700 developed to operate especially on board frigates and destroyers. The French Armed Forces presented also a Dassault Rafale M of the French Navy and a Dassault Mirage 2000 with the special livery “Banc d’essais Rafale 1993-2023” (Rafale testbed), an NH-90 and another A400M.
The US had a strong presence, with the already mentioned F-35A, two F-16s from Spangdahlem and an F-15 from RAF Lakenheath accompanied by a C-130J Hercules, a KC-46 tanker, a P-8 Poseidon and three helicopters: the CH-47F Block II (newest addition in the Chinook family), the latest development of the Apache, the AH-64E V6 and an UH-60 Black Hawk.
Embraer proudly showed two KC-390, including the first KC-390 Millennium for the Portuguese Air Force (the aircraft arrived in Portugal the previous October and should enter service, after being fitted with various equipment by OGMA and passing the routine certification tests, later this year) and an A-29 Super Tucano.
The Brazilian company is seeking more clients for their Millennium, after the first export successes. Austria could be the next European country to order the KC-390, as they will have to replace their aging C-130K soon. Not far from the Tucano, Pilatus presented the PC-21. This type is in use also in the French Armed Forces.
Another turboprop trainer was on display at Diamond’s stand. The Dart-750 took off for the first time on June 12th and flew to Le Bourget some days later. It is powered by a Pratt&Whitney Canada PT6A-25C turboprop. The Dart-750 should get EASA certification in 2024 and is one of the types considered by the Belgian Air Force to replace their aging SF.260s.
Leonardo brought to Paris an M345, an M346FA, an AW169M of the Italian Guardia di Finanza with skids and a Falco Xplorer that was showcased for the first time armed with a Brimstone missile. Notable mention to the AS169M on which you could spot a big number one that celebrated the fact that was the first the helicopter of this type to be delivered to Guardia di Finanza back in January. The helicopter is based in Pratica di Mare (near Rome).
Continuing with drones, Paris was the stage for the premiere of the Turgis&Gaillard Aarok, a 5,5t French built MALE UCAV for surveillance and attack missions. The UAV will start flying before the end of this year with a projected endurance of up to 24 hours and a maximum payload of 3t.
Another new sight at the show was the mock-up of the 11t helicopter T925, which was first presented to the public on Monday, Jun. 19. The T925 aims to enter service in the Turkish Armed Forces and will be powered by two Motor Sich TV3-117VMA-SBM1V engines.
As the situation in Ukraine is still very tense, TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) is ready to develop a new type of engine on its own. Motor Sich engines are also powering the attack helicopter ATAK II, a mock-up of which was displayed too. The first prototype made its first flight in April.
TAI showcased the mock-ups of the UAV Anka and its largest development, the twin engine Aksungur. The latest can carry guided and unguided weapons on six hardpoints and is already in service with Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, with further orders from Algeria and Angola. In addition, TAI showed a scale model of the ANKA III UCAV, which should conduct its maiden flight in July.
The AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) officially unveiled a 1:10 scale model of the Wing Loong-X (WL-X), the newest addition in the Wing Loong UCAV family. Their stand was full of models representing their actual and future production. The interest for the Chinese products was high as many delegations were seen visiting AVIC’s booth and other Chinese companies.
But China was not the only Far Eastern country with a strong presence. After the South Korean success in Poland (the nation ordered 48 KAI FA-50 light combat aircraft in 2022 plus a variety of other weapons, including tanks and self-propelled howitzers) the Asian country is seeking to boost their defence exports even more. Japan did not send any aircraft this time (in 2019 we could admire both the Kawasaki C-2 and the P-1 – both types were so far marketed without success but already are two proven platforms that deserve more attention from international customers).
An interesting sight in the static display was also a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 of the Armed Forces of Malta Air Wing. The plane is equipped with a maritime surveillance radar. The Austrian company Airborne Technologies and De Havilland Canada showcased the DHC-6 Guardian 400 demo aircraft that was already on display in 2019 and is, according to Airborne Technologies website, currently on sale. The Austrian company will install its LINX Surveillance System into two DHC-6-300 leased by the Danish Ministry of Defence from Zimex Aviation. The two Twin Otters will be delivered in 2024. De Havilland Canada announced also the launch of the new version named DHC-6 Twin Otter Classic 300-G aiming the civilian market. It is only a matter of time when we will see a military version of it too…
The war in Ukraine is proving, once again, that in the modern battlefield, air defence is fundamental. Weapon systems, that were withdrawn from service like the German Gepard, are now playing a crucial role in downing loitering munitions as the Shahed – Geran 2. On the other side there is also a growing focus on electronic warfare.
A huge number of missiles were sent to Ukraine from various NATO countries that will have now to restock their depleted warehouses. The Armed Forces are now focusing on strengthen their air defences and acquiring new equipment. The industry is also studying new systems and some of them were officially presented at the show.
MBDA debuted with the concept of a hypersonic missile interceptor, the Aquila, showcasing a three-stage model, the result of five years of internal research. The project is supported by France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands and should enter service in 2030.
Another new interceptor, this time from Rafael, is the Sky Sonic and it was announced earlier in June. The Sky Sonic is a multi-stage interceptor that should successfully counter hypersonic weapons. The missile was developed in secret for several years and has still to be tested. The Israeli company also unveiled the new air-to-air Sky Spear missile, specifically designed to be used both for short- and long-range engagements. Further details were not provided, but the project is in the final development stage.
On Monday, June 19, five nations (France, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia and Hungary) signed a LOI with MBDA for the joint acquisition of the Mistral 3 ground-based short-range air defence system.
Safran signed a contract for two Ground Master 400 Alpha radars for the Estonian Air Force. The GM400 Alpha has a range of up to 515 km and will join the GM400 radars already in service in Estonia.
Raytheon Technologies rebranded itself as RTX (RTX was already the stock ticker of the company) on the first day of the show. The parent company has three (giant) subsidiaries: Collins, Pratt&Whitney and Raytheon. The later was awarded a record $1.15 billion contract for AIM-120 D-3 and C-8 AMRAAM missiles from the US DoD. The missiles from the contract will be supplied to 18 countries, including Ukraine.
The DoD also signed a $264 million modification to a contract originally awarded in December 2022 to produce and deliver 571 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and associated parts for the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and foreign military sales customers. Although the contracts were not signed at the Paris Air Show, but during the week of the show, they are a clear indication of the huge effort the US and other partners are making to resupply their Armed Forces with new air to air and ground to air missiles.
Some more news from the show and conclusions
Let’s end the report with a few more announcements and orders from the show that were not already mentioned above. T
he FCAS (Future Combat Air System) project has been allocated a 3.2 billion Euro worth contract in December 2022 and the full-scale model of the NGF (Next Generation Fighter) was exposed at the same place as in 2019. Belgium officially entered the program as an observer and the announcement was made during the show. The sixth-generation fighter is scheduled to start flying at the end of the decade.
On June 21, Airbus announced that Spain approved the procurement of six C295 MPAs that will replace the already decommissioned P-3 Orions and ten C295 MSAs that are set to replace the aging fleet of CN235 MSAs.
The Greek Army ordered four Safran Patroller UAVs through NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency and thereby strengthening the already excellent relationship with France, Greece being a long-time operator of Dassault made fighters and other French weapon systems.
Leonardo and Airbus announced a MoU to jointly approach the integrated training systems market. The agreement could stop the development of the Airbus Future Jet Trainer and push sales of the M346 and its variants. More about that in our dedicated article.
The Italian company is also growing their share in the Eurodrone programme and has signed a contract with Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) to provide an undisclosed number of additional MCH-101 naval helicopters to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) which already operates ten MCH-101 and three CH-101 helicopters that will all undergo a mid-life upgrade.
The Paris Air Show shows the trends and products that will dominate the aerospace industry in the next years. It is the place where major contracts are signed, especially in the civilian industry, as the state actors have (understandably) a longer approval procedure. Nonetheless it is an important meeting point also for the defence industry, proven by the numerous delegations that attended Le Bourget.