New political agreement on the FCAS, a future European combat aircraft project

After a year of uncertainty, France and Germany finally announced on Friday November 18 that they had reached a new agreement to launch the next phase of development of the future “sixth generation” European fighter aircraft. A step that corresponds to the construction of a demonstrator, essential to complete this project called “air combat system of the future” (SCAF), and supposed to replace, by 2040, the French Rafale from Dassault Aviation and the Airbus Eurofighter Typhoon.

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Germany fired the first shot on Friday 18 November. “After intense negotiations, an agreement between industrialists was reached”said the Ministry of Defense in a press release released at the end of the day. “The political agreement on FCAS is a big step forward and above all, in the current international context, an important signal of the excellent cooperation”reacted in the wake of the Elysée, while specifying that the industrial agreement which must accompany it is only “about to be concluded”.

This political announcement must indeed still be ratified by the signing of a contract in good and due form between the manufacturers, something never completely acquired until the final initials. “We can confirm that discussions between industry and governments on the next phase of FCAS have been successful”thus indicated in a prudent way Airbus, shortly after the announcement of Berlin, while, on the side of Dassault, choice was made to abstain from any comment and not to diffuse a press release.

Deep technical disagreements

A situation directly linked to the very high stakes of this contract, while deep technical disagreements between Dassault and Airbus Defense and Space, in particular on the sharing of the intellectual property of the flight controls, have long hindered the progress of the SCAF. Among all the players in this vast Franco-German industrial project launched in 2017, which Spain joined at the end of 2019, and whose cost is estimated at more than 100 billion euros, Dassault is the party that has the more to lose.

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The SCAF is indeed not just an airplane, but a global system made up of nine “technological pillars”, including drones. However, even if the French aircraft manufacturer is the prime contractor for the aircraft itself, its rival Airbus, on the strength of its experience in the Eurofighter and its commercial aircraft, has sought from the start to also participate in the development of the ordering system. But Dassault fears that the sharing of certain technologies will be fatal to it in the long term, and will end up swallowing up the family business in a vast European consortium. A scenario that many observers do not completely elude.

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