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Dispute over fighter jet construction ended: clear path for Europe’s largest armaments project?

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There was talk of an “agreement”, of a “great step”, even of an “important sign of the excellent German-French-Spanish cooperation”. The Federal Ministry of Defense quoted its boss Christine Lambrecht (SPD) with these words on Monday evening.

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After more than a year of standstill, the long-awaited breakthrough in the German-French Future Air Combat System (FCAS) armaments project has finally come, some observers rejoiced. The FCAS air combat system is considered the future of the air force and should be operational from 2040. A networked system of manned combat aircraft and unmanned drones is planned, which will partially replace previous combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter,

Industry doesn’t go along with it

In Paris one seemed to have been a little surprised by the German advance. The Élysée Palace hastily announced in a communiqué that a political solution had indeed been found for the further development of the multi-billion dollar air combat system, but that an agreement on the part of the industry was still pending. “Excellent cooperation” looks different.

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To understand the scope of the project, you have to go back a few years. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel jointly announced that they wanted to develop Europe’s next fighter jet, also in response to Brexit. An intelligent weapon system as a successor to the British-German-Italian-Spanish Eurofighter and the French Rafale.

Governments want to work more closely together, but industry isn’t really going along with it.

Jacob Ross, expert on Franco-German security policy

But it should also be a European answer to the competition from South Korea or the USA and at the same time send a warning signal to Russia and China. A legitimate project, especially in “times like these”, as Christine Lambrecht put it.

From 2040, the new fighter jets are then to be built in series. “But if things continue to be as sluggish as they are now, that’s not achievable,” says Jacob Ross, an expert on Franco-German security policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). To be on the safe side, the planners today prefer to add “by 2050” to the original timetable.

The government is willing, but industry is reluctant

After all, the negotiations are already faltering. “Governments want to work more closely together, but industry isn’t really going along with it,” explains Ross. France has the technology, Germany and Spain bring the missing money.

The costs for the prototype, 3.6 billion euros, each bear a third of the countries. The areas of responsibility should also be allocated equally. But the French armaments company Dassault feels disadvantaged.

In fact, not Dassault and the German Airbus Defence, as originally planned, but also Airbus Spain would share the tasks.

Cooperation at eye level

Thus, two-thirds went to the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. While Dassault wants to take the lead in its core competency, the fighter jet, Germany wants cooperation on an equal footing. But Dassault is not ready to be seen in the cards.

Added to this are the various requirements placed on the high-tech jet, including when it comes to nuclear weapons. There are different opinions. Even if a compromise is found here, there are already new problems.

3.6

billion euro costs the prototype of the fighter jet.

Because with the British-Swedish-Italian project Tempest, a direct competitor is already much more advanced in the planning. In London, it is assumed that it will be possible to deliver as early as 2035, maybe even a little earlier.

“If the European FCAS only starts five to fifteen years later, the market and thus the sales markets for refinancing would already be saturated,” warns Jacob Ross.

Great Britain leads the way

In addition, Tempest is not an explicitly political project, but primarily a technological one. “Whereas France and Germany squabble over leadership, Tempest is very clear. Britain is leading the way,” analyzes Gesine Weber, an expert on European defense policy at the German Marshall Fund in Paris.

If things continue to be as sluggish as they are now, the goal will not be achievable.

Jacob Ross, expert on Franco-German security policy

Another risk factor is the political situation in France. The right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen got “only” 41 percent in this year’s presidential election, but in 2017 it was still 34 percent. Her party, the Rassemblement National, is already trying to put scent marks on the defense committee.

If they had their way, the armaments project would be completely funded. They still don’t have a majority for it. But with Macron’s lack of feeling for the mood of the people, that’s no longer an impossibility.

Can French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) report an agreement worthy of the name at their meeting in Berlin on Friday? “Let’s see,” laughed Éric Trappier, managing director of Dassault, on French radio station RTL this week. Like the French poet Jules Jouy, Trappier also knows: “Avant l’heure, c’est pas l’heure”. Translated loosely, this means: Nothing has been decided yet.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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