PARIS --- Despite a last-minute call by French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly for the German Bundestag to quickly approve the demonstrator contracts for the French-German-Spanish Next-Generation Fighter, Germany will probably only approve initial funding, and postpone funding for the entire demonstration phase to after the next general elections scheduled for autumn 2021.
German business daily Handelsblatt reported today that at its next session the Bundestag’s budget committee will just release funds for the initial preliminary work, known as Phase 1A, which is due to cost €77.5 million each for Germany and France. The entire demonstrator phase is estimated to cost up to €8 billion, and would be decided in late 2021 or 2022, Handelsblatt reported.
If confirmed, this would be a major setback for the FCAS program, whose goal is to fly the NGT demonstrator, powered by new demonstrator engines, in 2026. Postponing funding to 2021, or more probably to 2022, would substantially disrupt the program’s timing, with knock-on effects on other FCAS components.
It also creates another major obstacle in the French-German defense cooperation road-map, already sorely tried by German opposition to exporting jointly-developed weapons, and its insistence on having a dominant workshare on the European MALE drone and the MGCS next-generation tank.
For months, France has been unsuccessfully urging the German government to quickly launch the first development phase of the complete FCAS system concept, including the production of an aircraft demonstrator with new-generation engines.
The Bundestag budget committee is due to vote on the FCAS funding sometime next week, possibly on Friday 13, according to the Bundestag press office. Under German law, the committee must approve all military expenditure over €25 million.
However, “Germany will only decide on further funds after the technological preparatory work has been completed in 2021,” Handelsblatt reported. “In plain language, this means that nothing will come of it during the current legislature, and that the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project will only really get going with the successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel after the general elections scheduled for autumn 2021.”
The CDU-CSU Parliamentary group declined to discuss the budget committee hearing and to comment the Handelsblatt article. “For the time being there is nothing to be said on the subject,” a spokeswoman said Thursday morning.
Last-ditch appeal by France’s Parly
Addressing the third joint session of the French and German lower houses of Parliament sitting in Strasbourg, France, together with her German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Parly told Bundestag members that “your vote in a few days on the FCAS demonstrator will be of decisive importance, and will send a strong political signal about the will of our two countries to build a European defense that our two countries are calling for."
With this speech, Parly brought the German delays in approving the FCAS demonstrator contracts into the public arena, no doubt hoping to nudge along a process that has been delaying the contracts since June, when they were originally due to be awarded. The two contracts, one for the New-Generation Fighter and the other for its engine, are due to lead to the first flight of the NGF in 2026.
In her speech, Parly appealed to the Bundestag’s sense of political responsibility.
“Since 2017, we have had an extremely ambitious objective: to equip our respective armies with new-generation combat equipment, in the ground and air segments. These are well-known projects for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and the battle tank of the future (MGCS) that will see the light of day between 2035 and 2040 - in other words, tomorrow.”
“These projects are, of course, for equipment that our armies need, and need urgently. They are also industrial projects worth tens of billions of euros, with tens of thousands of jobs, and with major export prospects. But they are, first of all, political projects, we have a collective responsibility, it is to build this European defense that our two countries are calling for.”
Parly also used her speech to provide an update on the progress of bilateral next-generation cooperative programs, which “These projects are progressing well: we have been engaged since early 2019 in an architecture study, which will allow us to specify the large dimensions of the SCAF - whose demonstrator must fly in 2026 - the number of accompanying drones, and its combat cloud . For the tank, such an architectural study should be able to be launched very soon this year.
“We have designed these projects according to very clear guidelines: this cooperation is cooperation between equals.
“However, cooperation between equals does not mean cooperation without a pilot, where one would put aside the particular skills that have been developed over decades on both sides of the Rhine. We must capitalize on existing skills. These projects were therefore designed with balanced industrial sharing between France and Germany, whether on the SCAF or on the tank.”