PARIS --- The German Parliament’s Budget Committee is set to approve initial funding of €32.5 million on Wednesday to launch the development of the next-generation Future Combat Air System with France, Der Spiegel reported this morning.
The committee’s approval is a pre-condition for the official award of the program’s first concept study contracts, scheduled to be signed at the Paris Air Show which begins here June 17, to Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defence and Space for the New-Generation Fighter (NGF), and to Safran and MTU Aero Engines for its engines.
The development cost of the FCAS project is estimated at about €8 billion by 2030, according to a report prepared by the Federal Ministry of Finance for the deputies of the Budget Committee, and seen by Spiegel. This figure does not include production costs for the future aircraft, which is to enter service from 2040 onwards, nor of its networked environment.
The Budget Committee’s decision is especially significant as it would, for the first time, release German funding for research into the FCAS system, which is intended to initially support, and subsequently replace, the Tornado, Eurofighter and Rafale combat aircraft operated by the two countries.
Work on the concept study for the engines is already underway, in advance of the bilateral agreement, as the French had advanced their own money so that the work on the project could start at the beginning of this year, Spiegel reported.
In September, much more expensive concept study contracts are due to be awarded for the aircraft itself, the cockpit and the control electronics. Insiders estimate the volume of these works at many hundreds of millions of euros. Therefore, the French side does not want to start with that before the contentious export issue is resolved. Paris is openly threatening Berlin to end the project if there is no consensual solution.
Dispute over export rules
But due to a dispute over export rules for the new programs, the whole project has been slowed down in recent months. "The budgetary funds will send an important political signal," Paris now says.
The FCAS agreement is overshadowed by a dispute between the German and French governments over the question of how FCAS may be exported to countries outside of the EU and NATO. The German SPD socialist party, a partner in Germany’s governing coalition, has hitherto prevented an agreement with its restrictive attitude.
Germany’s Greens criticized the planned conclusion of an agreement with France. "The Federal Government is more interested in a nice signing ceremony in Le Bourget than clarifying open and highly sensitive issues such as export control for the fighter jet," said defense expert Tobias Lindner, who is also a member of the Budget Committee.
So far, Paris is pressing to sell the future fighter worldwide, free of German restrictions. Unlike Germany, France exports on a large scale to states that Germany considers as problematic, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Germany, on the other hand, pursues a restrictive export policy which prohibits arms exports to countries involved in war or in crisis areas.
Belgium and Spain could participate
In addition to the development of a new main battle tank, a new maritime patrol aircraft and other programs, the Franco-German FCAS project is considered the centerpiece for the development of a joint German-French defense industry and a common defense policy of the European Union.
Belgium and Spain have also declared their willingness to join the project; while Spain is expected to sign on to FCAS at the air show, France is expected to veto Belgium’s participation because it has ordered the American-made F-35 combat aircraft.