[Analysis] Germany agrees to develop Europe’s new fighter but keeps partners guessing, says GlobalData

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FCAS NGF mock-up at Paris Air Show 2019 © Tiraden CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79872775

Following yesterday’s news (Wednesday 12 February) that the German Bundestag voted credits for the joint-development of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS);

Nicolas Jouan, Defense Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view on the current state of the program:

News that the Budget Commission of the German Bundestag finally voted a special credit allocation for the development of the FCAS was expected, but still comes as a relief for its partners France and Spain.

The European multirole aircraft industry is already crowded with the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen fielding the fourth-generation market. Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation F-35 is also growing its share with sales to Britain, Italy, Poland and Belgium. GlobalData forecasts that multirole aircraft will be the second-fastest-growing category of the fixed-wing sector over the next decade with a 2.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2020 and 2029. This lucrative prospect has invited France and Germany to commit a combined RDT&E budget of US$175m for FY20, a sum likely to reach a cumulated value of US$2bn in the next three years only.

The FCAS will be a sixth-generation system, scheduled to fly in 2040 but already in competition with Britain-led Tempest program, a similar parallel European-wide project (it was joined by Italy in September 2019).

The FCAS is nevertheless considered as a strategic priority by proponents of a more integrated European defence. France in particular values the strategic autonomy conferred by an indigenous aircraft design such as the FCAS, whose airframe will be developed by Rafale’s designer: Dassault Aviation. The ‘system of systems’ will allow France and Germany to transition from legacy fleets of Mirage 2000, Rafale, Tornado, and Typhoon aircraft.

Despite agreeing in principle, Germany has been accused by high-ranking French officials of dragging its feet and privileging the interest of its national industry. The two countries notably clash on arms exports, France being generally more open to dealing with controversial buyers for political gains while Germany pledges a stricter proactive control policy.

The voting of the FCAS budget is an encouraging signal sent by the German legislature. However, long-term threats still loom on the program as the political situation in Germany remains unstable and the possibility of a less accommodating coalition of left-leaning parties could further undermine Franco-German relations.

13th February 2020

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