Manufacturers agree on the future European combat aircraft

The tussle between Dassault and Airbus lasted more than a year. Industrialists have finally reached an agreement for the costly and complex European combat aircraft project, concordant sources said on Friday. “After intense negotiations, an agreement between industrialists was able to be reached for the next phase of the program” of the Future Air Combat System (SCAF), said the German Ministry of Defense in a statement released in Berlin.

“The political agreement on FCAS is a big step forward and – especially in the current international context – an important signal of the excellent cooperation between France, Germany and Spain”, reacted the French presidency in a press release, emphasizing that “France assumes the role of leader of the project”.

Horizon 2040

“We can confirm that the discussions between industry and governments on the next phase of FCAS have been successful, which represents a major step forward for this flagship European defense program”, reacted for its part the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. . “Now, a number of formal steps in the respective countries must be completed in order to allow a quick signing of the contract with which we will have to comply,” he added.

Launched in 2017, the Future Air Combat System (SCAF), which also includes drones, is supposed to enter service by 2040. At the end of August 2021, the three countries concerned, France, Germany and Spain, had signed an agreement providing for 3.6 billion euros of detailed studies to launch in 2025 the construction of a demonstrator in flight. But the contracts had not been signed for lack of agreement on the sharing of tasks between the French manufacturer Dassault Aviation and its main partner, Airbus.

A “combat cloud”

Airbus and Dassault could not agree on the distribution of tasks on pillar 1 – the combat aircraft itself – the last of the nine pillars of the program on which discussions between manufacturers stumbled. But Airbus had expressed Monday its optimism about an agreement before the end of the year with Dassault. This essential agreement for the continuation of the program comes as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is expected on November 25 in Germany, where she will meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

This visit will be an opportunity for Paris to put some oil in the cogs of the Franco-German engine which had seized up on energy and defense issues. The SCAF program is a “system of systems” which revolves around the aircraft with accompanying drones, all connected, via a “combat cloud”, with the other military means involved in an operation.

100 billion euros

It is supposed to replace the French Rafale and German and Spanish Eurofighter in 2040. The total cost of the program – some 100 billion euros mentioned – is such that it is not possible to carry it out on a national scale, but on a European scale, underlined its promoters.

But Franco-German cooperation in the field of defense has struggled to materialize on several projects, in addition to the SCAF: the new combat tank program known as MGCS, supposed to enter service around 2035, remains mired in the rivalries between the Franco -German KNDS – comprising German KMW and French Nexter – and German Rheinmetall. In announcing at the end of February an envelope of 100 billion euros for defence, Olaf Scholz had recalled that the SCAF and the MGCS constituted an “absolute priority” and this, despite the recent purchase of American F-35 planes, which will serve mainly in Berlin to transport American nuclear missiles as part of NATO’s deterrence operations.

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