International Fighter Conference, 2018 and 2019: Fighters in the New Strategic Context


It’s clear that combat capabilities and operations are being recrafted across the globe and, as operational contexts change, the evolution of the role of fighters is at the center of that shift.

The 2018 International Fighter Conference held in Berlin provided a chance to focus on the role of fighters in the strategic shift from land wars to higher intensity operations.

The baseline assumption for the conference can be simply put: air superiority can no longer be assumed, and needs to be created in contested environments.

Competitors like China and Russia are putting significant effort into shaping concepts of operations and modernizing force structures which will allow them to challenge the ability of liberal democracies to establish air superiority and to dominate future crises.

There was a clear consensus on this point, but, of course, working the specifics of defeating such an adversary brings in broader concepts of force design and operations.

While the air forces of liberal democracies all face the common threat of operating in contested airspace, the preferred solutions vary greatly from one nation to another, so the conference worked from that common assumption rather than focusing on specific solutions.

Among some of the key questions addressed during IFC 2018 were the foillowing:

Where is sensor fusion done?

Where will decisions be taken?

Who will deliver them?

How will different air forces connect in distributed operations in contested airspace?

With what systems and means?

As multi-domain operations (the ability to deliver effects throughout the entire combat force with fighters playing various roles, C2, ISR, strike) come to dominate, will platforms be designed to enhance overall capabilities of the combat force?

Put another way, how will legacy aircraft evolve to the challenge of dealing with contested airspace while also contributing to multi-domain operations that is becoming a primary driver of change for the air combat force?

International Fighter Conference 2019 picked up from the discussion last year, to focus notably on the second and third questions: how will fighters evolve within the air combat force to deliver multi-domain effects in a contested environment?

The conference focused on the role of fighters within the evolution of networked lethality.

The key point is that fighters are not what they once were.

They are now key players in multi-mission and multi-domain operations.

Some of the themes which clearly emerged from the conference, include but are not limited to the following:

What progress has the Future Combat Air System program of the French, Germans and, now the Spanish made in the past year?

How the manned-unmanned teaming part of FCAS could enter the market in the next decade?

How convergent are the projected French Rafale and the German Eurofighter modernization programs? Is it more a case of parallel efforts or cross cutting ones?

How has the coming of the F-35 affected rethinking about air combat operations? How to better connect fifth generation concepts and thinking with the overall dynamics of change in what I call the shaping of an integrated distributed force?

How are countries directly threatened by the 21st century authoritarian powers addressing the role of air power in their self-defense?

How best to train a multi-domain fighter pilot?

How does the telescoping of generations of fighter aircraft shape the “next” generation fighter?

How to best address the challenge of affordable capability, remembering Secretary Wynne’s core point: You don’t win anything being the second-best air force?

Is the combat cloud the best way to think about the new C2/ISR infrastructure which is being crafted, created and shaped for the advanced air forces?

In short, the fighter conference is a place to be for those who are thinking about the evolution of the multi-domain combat environment and how best to prepare those flying fighters to prevail in that environment.

For the International Fighter Conference 2018, see the following:


For the International Fighter Conference 2019, see the following:

International Fighter Conference 2019: Special Report