Deep Dive Into Hypersonic Interceptors, Eurofighter And KC-390 News From PAS23

PAS 23
KC-390, Eurofighter Typhoon and Hypersonic Missile Interceptor (Image created using Embraer, Alex Marc and MBDA photos)

Let’s have a closer look at three major updates from the 54th Paris Air Show.

With the Paris Air Show (PAS23) over, this is a deeper dive into the three major updates to come out of Le Bourget. Perhaps the most important focus of various attending countries was the new effort to rapidly procure a new hypersonic missile interceptor.  With the development of the FCAS/GCAP in the near horizon, a new long-term plan for the Eurofighter Typhoon has been announced. And lastly, various efforts to utilise the KC-390 ensues as Embraer now eyes on the USAF’s plan to procure more air-to-air refuelling platforms by 2040.

Hypersonic Missile Interceptors

With Germany having recently agreed with Denmark and Sweden to join the European Sky Shield Initiative, and publishing its first national security strategy last week, a large focus on air defence was placed amongst attending countries. Perhaps inspired by their neighbours’ efforts, French president Emmanuel Macron hosted a meeting for EU defence leaders to discuss this exact subject. As a result, there are now two separate hypersonic missile interceptor projects being funded within Europe.

Initially, a single project called the European Hypersonic Defence Interceptor (EU HYDEF) was launched in 2022 between seven nations to develop a hypersonic missile interceptor by 2035. However, concerns were raised by MBDA and a few other companies to the European Commission arguing that equal opportunity should be given to those who weren’t originally on the program. Thus, the European Commission has declared that they will now have two separate programs developed in parallel as competition. The two-headed duel between the MBDA led HYDIS2 and the Diehl Defence led HYDEF is scheduled to last until 2027 until a winning contractor is chosen for further development.

Not to miss out on the hot topic, Israeli Rafael also announced their new hypersonic missile interceptor, Sky Sonic. Unfortunately, not much has been released about the new interceptor, but it is expected to come in a two stage launch vehicle.

Extended Life to the Eurofighter Typhoon

A new announcement of an extended service life of the Eurofighter was announced. The Typhoon is now set to remain in service in various forces up to 2060, according to Eurofighter GMBH. The firm’s CEO Giancarlo Mezzanatto says that roughly 150 to 200 more aircraft are expected from existing and new customers combined in the next 2 year. Having gone through only 30% of its newly extended life, the Typhoon has much more in store.

Interoperability and connectivity upgrades will be delivered by next year, with the integration of P3Ec, software packages for Civil Nav and MIDS. Furthermore, enhanced E-Scan, DASS, IFF and METEOR upgrade packages will be released along with an increased MTOW. As part of Programme 4 Enhancement (P4E), the Aerodynamic Modification Kit (AMK) and Ground Data Loader and Recorder (GDLR) is scheduled to be released to all participating nations in 2028. This is expected to allow more flexible and heavier weapon configurations as well as new weapons integrations. In the long term, various upgrades are planned for the Typhoon to be able to support the FCAS platform. A new avionics architecture, new Glareshields, helmet mounted display Striker II, and High Speed Data Network are scheduled for development in the future.

New Capabilities in the KC-390 Millenium

One notable participant to the Paris Airshow was the C-390 team from Embraer. Changing the designation from the original KC-390 to the C-390, the Millenium is now pitched by the Brazilian firm as a multi mission platform, offering many more capabilities than before.

Currently the aircraft is undergoing a dual certification process from both the Brazilian Civil Airworthiness Authority under FAA 14 CFP  Part 25 standard and the Brazilian Air Force. The mid-sized tactical airlift platform achieved the FOC (full operational capability) with the Brazilian Air Force earlier this year.

Embraer is adding new upgrades in hopes of reaching a wider customer base, as well as hoping for a potential deal with the US Air Force. Most importantly, a NATO operations package will be installed including Link-16 datalink (MIDS JTRS ViaSat), Military GPS, IFF Mode 4&5 transponder (Crypto KIV-77), HF Crypto (Securecomm KY-100), and dual VHF/UHF radio (RCI ARC210). As can be seen above, most equipment has already been finalised, awaiting final integration.  Upgrading its original functionality, Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) is currently under testing. JPADS aids drop zone calculation by utilising GPS along with steerable parachutes, and an onboard computer to accurately estimate the point of impact of the payload. The mission planning software itself is computed locally on a laptop and displays the point of release for pilots by taking measurements of wind, altitude, pressure, and temperature.

After its first combat use in Afghanistan in 2006, the system has seen wide use on platforms such as the C-130 and C-17. Adding on to the wide portfolio of mission set, palletised intensive care units and medical modules to fit the C-390 have been designed as part of the MEDEVAC kit.

Perhaps the most substantial capability upgrade of all, plans to turn the KC-390 into a flying boom air to air refuelling platform has been announced. The KC-390 Agile Tanker is a joint effort between Embraer and L3Harris, which aims to serve the US Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment (ACE) plan. This new doctrine focuses on the force’s capability to rapidly deploy to regions with little to no infrastructure. Especially in the Indo-Pacific region, the use of a smaller platform with a rugged double chamber shock absorbing main landing gear, the KC-390 Agile Tanker can triple runway access from 247 to 761 in the INDOPACOM area compared to the current fleet of KC-135 and KC-46.

While detail on the flying boom system expected to be integrated on the C-390 is sparse, L3Harris has revealed that it is currently working on several options that include a remote console similar to what can be found on current MRTT and KC-46 platforms. Current C-390 variants all employ a hose and drogue probe to receive air to air refuelling, but that is also due to change to a flying boom receptacle for the Agile Tanker variant. The Agile Tanker is expected to operate in a hub and spoke system to offer refuelling capabilities closer to the conflict zone by operating out of unprepared fields, aiding larger tankers operating further back. With tensions in the South China Sea rising, the KC-390 Agile Tanker seems to be the best gap filler for the USAF’s new doctrine.

This article offered a deeper look into the key announcements from the 54th Paris Air Show. A wider insight can be found in a previous article we published here.

About Wonwoo Choi
Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.