Germany and France have high-flying plans for the development of modern weapon systems. But implementation is difficult because there are major strategic and political differences - and the money is scarce.
It's about future technologies, strategic autonomy, the military’s ability to act and a lot of money. When Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron signed the new Franco-German Treaty in Aachen in January, they agreed not only to tighten their policies, but also to strengthen their weapons procurement. So, they declared they would build together a fighter jet system, an armed drone, a maritime patrol aircraft and a main battle tank and artillery system - all in all, an investment that should cost between 100 and 200 billion euros. These new weapons systems will shape the armies of both countries well into the second half of the century.
German-French armaments cooperation has a long tradition of ups and downs. So, both countries in the 1960s built the successful Transall transport aircraft, the Alpha Jet fighter-bomber and, later, the Milan and HOT anti-tank weapons and Roland anti-aircraft missile. Meanwhile, France stepped out of the Eurofighter program in the mid-1980s and developed its own fighter. Even after the Cold War, attempts to develop weapons systems together failed several times. It was mostly the French who withdrew from the projects during the development phase, for example for the transport tanker Boxer.
Paris wants to be able to act independently
"When it comes to procurement for the armed forces, Paris is always concerned with the ability to act militarily on its own," says Christian Mölling, armament expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin. This autonomy of action consists not only in securing technological know-how and jobs through military developments, but also in pursuing its own security interests by exporting weapons.
This was indirectly confirmed by French Defense Minister Florence Parly in mid-February, when she visited the engine manufacturer Safran in Gennevilliers together with her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen. Everyone knows, Parly said somewhat cryptically, that it would be impossible to participate in important and ambitious armaments programs if it was solely for the satisfaction of the military. Eric Trappier, Chief Executive Officer of aircraft manufacturer Dassault, who together with his former competitor Airbus is to build a new Franco-German fighter, made it clearer. The export of his products, Trappier said at the beginning of March in the newspaper Le Figaro, is part of Dassault's business model. The German-French arms export regulations must therefore be harmonized urgently.
But the export of jointly produced weapons is a constant issue on contention between Germany and France. For example, some time ago the federal government refused to allow the French arms company Nexter to export Aravis-type armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. They are based on the chassis of the Unimog developed in Germany. Berlin also vetoed the sale of antitank missiles Milan to Qatar.
The Federal Government in Berlin is now blocking the delivery of the air-to-air missile Meteor to Britain. The reason is that the NATO partner wants to deliver its Eurofighter Typhoon to Saudi Arabia and wants to arm it with Meteor. Following the alleged assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018, which was commissioned by the royal family in Riyadh, Istanbul has issued a prohibition of arms exports for Saudi Arabia, regardless of its cooperation partners. The Meteor producer MBDA is a European company, in which, among others, the British BAE Systems is involved.
Controversial export bans
In France, the German vetoes cause skepticism about the now-agreed cooperation for the export of jointly-manufactured armaments. It would be useless to create new weapons through improved cooperation if one were unable to export them, recently complained of French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. The newspaper "La Tribune" even quotes President Macron, in connection with the ban on exports to Saudi Arabia, with the statement that this is "pure demagoguery" on the part of the Germans. The Gulf State is an important partner of Europe in the fight against terrorism, and this has nothing to do with the Khashoggi case. But, above all, the left parties in the Bundestag refuse to simplify armaments exports.
Apparently, the federal government is working on a course change. A paper recently circulated in Berlin, which is considered a precursor to a formal agreement with Paris, states that “the Contracting Parties do not object to the export or transfer of military equipment developed as part of cooperation projects.” There would be exceptions only if their immediate interests or national security were at risk. The paper would mean a departure from Berlin's past export practice.
But expressions like these have also existed in the past. For example, Defense Ministers Helmut Schmidt and Michel Debré pledged in the early 1970s that neither of the two governments would block the export of common armaments. The reality was different.
This meant that both sides did not cooperate with each other for a long time in military developments. But now they are forced to do so, and that is mainly due to France. For without the money from Germany, Paris can no longer maintain its military autonomy.
"The French do not cooperate with us because they love us Germans so much, but because they run out of funds financially," says Christian Mölling of the DGAP.
Who is allowed to do something?
The two neighbors are now faced with the challenge of distributing the work on the projects in such a way that they correspond to the respective investment volume. That could be difficult.
In the new combat aircraft system, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), it is agreed that Germany will contribute slightly more than 50 percent of the costs. The greatest added value lies at the heart of the system, a manned jet from which other weapons, such as drones, are controlled. Dassault and Airbus have not yet been able to agree on the development and production shares. While Dassault expects to make the aircraft 80 percent, Airbus wants a balanced relationship.
"The work distribution has not been decided yet for me," says Thomas Pretzl, chairman of the influential works council at Airbus Defense and Space in Ottobrunn near Munich.
Even with the new Main Ground Combat System is officially unclear who takes the lead. The tank is to replace the French Leclerc and the German Leopard 2. To this end, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Nexter merged four years ago. Especially, Paris had wanted the merger, as the state-owned company Nexter was hardly competitive in the tank.
Although the Main Ground Combat System is supposed to be introduced into the troops as early as the mid-2030s according to the ideas of the Ministry of Defense in Berlin and time is running out, both countries have so far not been able to communicate their abilities.
Part of the military, both in France and in Germany, wants a lightly armored "mother ship" with two crew members, connected with semi-autonomous escort vehicles. The other part favors the classic variant, a heavy multi-functional battle tank with three or four-headed crew.
Although most of the armaments projects agreed between Berlin and Paris have so far been nothing more than intentions, the jockeying for position is already in full swing. Both countries are concerned with maintaining their industrial technological competencies.
Here, as complain representatives of the German defense industry, the French did not squeamish. "Our companies fear that they will be disadvantaged in their cooperation with France," says Hans-Christoph Atzpodien, Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Security and Defense Industry (BDSV). Even Thomas Pretzl of Airbus sees this danger. "There is a clear trend to shift know-how and development capacity to France," he says. However, Germany would have to be able to continue on its own in each of the projects in the event of the French leaving the country.
German austerity measures endanger the projects
But the question is whether the German-French agreements can even be realized. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has just made it clear that he does not want to meet the wishes of Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. Von der Leyen had demanded an increase in its budget from today's 1.31 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 1.5 percent in 2024. Based on current figures, this would be an increase from 43 billion euros to nearly 51 billion euros. Calculated on the basis of the current economic growth, the defense budget in 2024 would even amount to more than 60 billion euros.
Scholz only wants to increase funding for the Federal Armed Forces to about 45 billion euros until 2023, which corresponds to only 1.25 percent of GDP. The Minister justifies his decision by stating that the budget must henceforth be subject to an annual reserve due to the deteriorating economy.
For the planned German-French armaments projects, this development could mean the end, even before they were really started. "Without significantly more money, they will not be feasible," says Hans-Christoph Atzpodien.
German-French Armaments Projects
-- Future Combat Air System (FCAS):
Replacement of the combat aircraft Rafale (France) and Eurofighter (Germany) from the mid-2040s; manned fighter jet associated with drones, satellites, other aircraft, ships; Costs are estimated at 80 to 100 billion euros; first project studies are running.
-- Main Ground Combat System (MGCS):
Replacement of the main battle tanks Leclerc and Leopard 2 from the mid-2030s. Details on the skill profile are expected by the end of the year; Panzer, as a command post, is to coordinate the deployment of other weapon systems, such as unmanned, lightly armored cars.
-- Common Indirect Fire System:
Scalable artillery system, which will replace the 120-millimeter mortar and the rocket launcher Mars in the German Armed Forces until 2040 and supplement the guns, caliber 155 (for example, Panzerhaubitze 2000). Currently a project study is running. Other states should be able to participate in the development.
-- Tiger Mark III:
Further development of combat helicopter Tiger ("Mid-Life Update") including retrofit (combat value increase) from 2020; Introduction of a new main weapon (air-to-surface missile, project name "European Modular Missile", range: about 10 kilometers).
-- Euro drone:
Armed unmanned aircraft for land and sea use for medium altitudes (up to 13,000 meters) and long range (more than 24 hours flight duration); Introduction to the armed forces planned from 2025; Germany wants to procure 21 pieces, France 8, Spain 8, Italy has not yet decided; Demonstration model presented at the ILA in Berlin in April 2018; Development partnership between Germany, France, Spain and Italy; Industrial leadership at Airbus; Germany has leased 5 unarmed Israeli Heron TP for 900 million euros in this drone segment.
-- Maritime Airborne Warfare System:
Successor of the maritime patrol aircraft P-3C Orion (Germany) and Breguet Atlantique 2 (France) from the mid-2030s; possibly a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft for monitoring and monitoring large sea areas above and below water; still unclear whether new development or whether marketable product is purchased; 15 systems each for Germany and France.
Marco Seliger is chief editor of the Frankfurt-based “Loyal” security policy magazine.
Click here for the original article (in German) on the NZZ website.