Berlin and Paris agree on next project phase

Model of the planned combat aircraft system FCAS

The jet should be able to operate in a network with drones.

(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin, Paris Aircraft makers Dassault and Airbus can proceed with the development of a new combat aircraft system. The governments of Germany, France and Spain agreed on Friday to release funds for the production of an airworthy demonstration model.

According to Berlin circles, the development costs for this program phase 1b are around 3.5 billion euros. Based on the demonstration model, it should then be tested whether the project can be realized technologically.

The Élysée Palace in Paris confirmed the agreement. “After intensive negotiations, an industrial agreement is about to be concluded,” it said on Friday evening. The political agreement is “a big step forward, especially in the current international context”.

The agreement is also “an important signal of the excellent cooperation between France, Germany and Spain”. The planned air combat system will strengthen Europe’s military capabilities. The talks “at high government level” would have led to a breakthrough. France remains in the lead in the project.

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Most recently, Paris and Berlin in particular had been arguing about the so-called Future Combat Air System (FCAS) because the ideas about the performance requirements differed. One question was whether or not docked drones should have electronic warfare capability. There were also discussions about the engines. These differences now appear to have been resolved. The contracts should be able to be signed before the end of this year.

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Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) described the agreement as an “important sign” of Franco-German cooperation. FCAS is considered a key project in order to be able to independently ensure Europe’s defense capability.

Dassault and Airbus tasked with development

The project is about more than just a fighter aircraft, but rather about a system with which modern warfare can be waged. The aircraft should be networked via a cloud in conjunction with drones and be able to pass on its data to other units. So far, only the USA has a remotely comparable system with the F-35.

Dassault and Airbus were commissioned with the development, and the Spanish armaments group Indra is also involved. The development of the airworthy test models should be completed by 2027/2028.

The effort is enormous, so FCAS is to receive, among other things, a new camouflage capability and fail-safe digital networking. According to previous plans, the new combat system should come onto the market in 2040 and replace the Eurofighter.

Frictions between armaments companies

A spokesman for Airbus confirmed the agreement. This is a significant step forward for this European flagship program in the defense sector.

The partnership between Dassault and Airbus has not been without friction so far, which may also have contributed to the delay. While Airbus had already cooperated with other companies on larger armaments projects, Dassault is breaking new ground. The family-run group developed, among other things, the Rafale fighter plane.

More: Airbus boss in an interview – “For the first time since 1944 the sky was closed to this extent”

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