The Expendable Remote Carriers: A Game Changer for Future Collaborative Air Combat

What are Expendable Remote Carriers?

The Expendable Remote Carriers (ERC) are compact unmanned collaborative combat aircrafts, which
are being developed with the goal of enabling the next generation air-combat systems to fully operate in highly contested environment. The ERC can be the eyes of the NGWS (Next Generation Weapon System) in highly contested areas and deliver a wide variety of effects. This makes them an essential asset in the gain of the air superiority and the mission’s overall success. They will operate alongside manned or unmanned assets, including weapons to support them in the core of their missions and/or protect them. Highly collaborative while being able of autonomy in the most highly denied environment, the ERC will guarantee the right level of human control to comply with the appropriate rules of engagement. With other unmanned assets being ERC or weapons, they will constitute smart, autonomous and collaborative ‘packs’ in which each asset can take its part of the mission and allow the whole to adapt immediately to the tactical environment. This collaborative approach will be key to achieving and maintaining air superiority in highly contested environments. MBDA, leader of the kinetic effects among the NGWS partners, is maturing a new panel of non-lethal effects to fulfil the operational needs: detect the enemy, identify, trigger the desired reactions, saturate and disturb, deceive and finally neutralize the enemy. By design, ERC are compact to be integrated on-board air combat platforms, while being capable of being operated from naval and ground-based platforms.

Expendable Remote Carriers: The Operational Advantages

  • A key enabler for collaborative air combat, providing support for: reconnaissance, electronic warfare, meta sensors, intelligence, target detection/designation, air-to-air combat
  • Be an integrated and connected asset within a system of systems
  • Offer combat mass
  • A key role across the entire spectrum of missions: air superiority, air tactical strike missions, deep strike operations or air-sea combat

Expandable Remote Carriers (ERC) are structuring assets of the FCAS/NGWS (Future Combat air
System/Next Generation Weapon System) architecture as well as for the Global Combat Air
Programme (GCAP). A significant effort, involving industrial partners across France, Germany, and Spain is being deployed in the NGWS programme to develop the ERC, in consistency with other NGWS assets (e.g. Next Generation Fighter). The NGWS activities are focusing on the maturation of the technologies that will be key to developing the ERC in the future. Those maturation activities are supported by the development of an ERC Demonstrator (ERC-D) that will be flown in the Phase 2 of the programme. MBDA is leading the definition and development of the NGWS ERC-D demonstrator. The ERC-D is combining advanced airframe technologies for a unique flight domain, close to the one of manned fighters in subsonic operations, extreme modularity to integrate future communications and sensors demonstrators and a ‘brain’ capable of operating advanced collaborative capabilities.

In parallel with the ERC demonstrator development, the relevant operational ERC concepts are being
explored, assessed and selected as part of the NGWS joint concept studies. These activities are
performed in cooperation and in consistency with the other NGWS pillars (i.e. the Next Generation
Fighter, the Combat Cloud, and the sensors). The ERC operational capabilities studies are conducted in the frame of a dedicated FR/DE/ES ERC forum coordinated by MBDA.


Collaborative combat effectors will form an essential part of future weapons systems to defeat
evermore complex threats. Building on its renowned experience in delivering cutting-edge missiles
systems, MBDA presents Orchestrike a unique set of advanced innovations that will turn collaborative combat effectors into reality. From digital engineering to system integration, MBDA aims to deliver a new force multiplier. The SMART family, which includes SMARTCRUISER and SMARTGLIDER, will feature Orchestrike force multiplier capabilities enabling swarming attacks in complex environment.

The SMART family

Intended primarily for various air platforms, primarily the Rafale aircraft, the SMARTCRUISER is a
compact effector that can be carried in numbers, either from its innovative Hexalauncher or from a
bay. Connected through a datalink, motorized, and embedding Orchestrike technologies, the
SMARTCRUISER will enable swarm attack to perform precision air-to-ground strikes at stand-off
distance against ground and naval targets heavily protected by air defence. The SMARTCRUISER is
ideally suited for the suppression and/or destruction of enemy air defences (SEAD/ DEAD) missions in even advanced threat environments. The SMARTGLIDER offers the same compactness than the
SMARTCRUISER and can similarly be fitted in numbers under the aircraft. It however features a heavier warhead for more hardened targets, hence providing the ideal combination with the SMARTCRUISER.

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