PARIS --- French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly and her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen today signed two Letters of Intent on the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) and the Système de Combat Aérien du Futur, [known as the] Next Generation Weapon System within a Future Combat Air System (SCAF).
These two Letters of Intent materialize the will of France and Germany, expressed in particular during the Franco-German Council of Ministers of July 2017, to jointly build the weapon systems of the future, and to act towards the construction of European defense.
SCAF will be the air combat system of the 21st century. It will bring together a new multi-purpose combat aircraft, adapted to contemporary air threats and exploiting the potential of artificial intelligence, with network-based combat capabilities, including of different types of drones. It should begin to enter service by 2040.
The Letter of Intent sets the goal of launching a study phase by no later than the end of 2018. In this phase, work on the overall architecture will be accompanied by the rapid launch of demonstrations. These technological actions will have to prefigure, by 2025, the concepts to be retained for the future operational system. The Letter of Intent designates France as the lead nation on the project. It also provides for other partners, especially European partners, to join in the project.
Regarding the future battle tank, France and Germany share the same ambitious vision of a system based on the most innovative technologies and able to ensure operational superiority in all contexts and on all terrains. Fully integrated with the Scorpion program in France and the HEER system in Germany, MGCS will be the benchmark in ground combat systems when it is deployed in 2035.
The Letter sets the goal of launching a joint demonstration phase by mid-2019. Adapted to the evolutions of threats and technologies, it foresees a staging point in 2022 and the establishment by 2024 of a detailed operational requirement. It designates Germany as the project's lead nation and provides a solid foundation for a broader cooperation agreement, including with other European partners.
Supporting broad and ambitious cooperation, the letter also includes common commitments on the artillery system of the future (CIFS).
As a sign of the quality of Franco-German cooperation, the launch of the Franco-German CSO3 military satellite on Ariane 6 was also agreed today. The Ariane 6 project, which France fully supports, is a major component of Europe’s sovereign access to space.
While France and Germany have embarked on a necessary defense effort in view of the changing strategic context, these programs will constitute a major contribution to the security of Europeans and to the development of a modern and adapting Atlantic Alliance. The signing of these two letters is an important step:
-- for the defense systems of France and Germany, providing for an ambitious renewal, adapted to all types of commitment and incorporating the latest technological innovations. The very clear identification of a lead nation on each project guarantees an efficient organization of work;
-- for the construction of European defense, anxious to ensure full interoperability between partners and allies, and leaving the door open for wider cooperation with other participants, especially European ones;
-- for the development of the European defense industrial base, necessary to guarantee greater sovereignty;
-- for the growth of the defense industry, by offering opportunities for exports, production, research and innovation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: While the agreement on the launch of the CSO3 satellite by Ariane 6 is a welcome bonus, the ministers did not sign a third LoI on a future joint maritime patrol aircraft, as expected.
Nor did the ministers mention two other programs for which they signed unspecified “agreements” during the Berlin air show in April: the European MALE drone and the Future Maritime Airborne Warfare Systems.
The significance of two projects covered Tuesday’s LoIs is tempered by their very long timelines -- they are expected to enter service in 2035-2040 – which imply the need for long-term continuity of funding and also provide many opportunities for delays and reconsiderations.
While it is a good and necessary advance to have agreed the long-term goals and decided the lead nations for both programs, there is a lot of slack in the rope, and allowing seven years simply to set the future tank’s detailed operational requirement seems needlessly long.
As far as international agreements go, a letter of intent is a pretty weak instrument, and merely signals an intention that can easily change or even disappear down the road. Given the other agreements that will have to follow – on operational requirements, industrial framework, program management and government supervision – before these programs can be effectively launched, signing a simple LoI is probably a weaker sign that ministers intended.)