The blitz appears to have been mounted by the French and German units of Airbus, with the support of the German Ministry of Defence, to ram through an agreement that has not yet been accepted by Dassault Aviation, the program leader, and reportedly blind-sided the French government, including Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu who had apparently not been informed.
The German MoD statement is all the more surprising that five hours earlier, a spokesman had told Reuters that no deal had yet been concluded. “We have nothing new to report but we are on the right path," a defence ministry spokesperson in Berlin said.
To date – three days later – there has still been no official reaction from France, barring a two-line statement issued by the Elysée Palace to Agence France-Presse on Friday night, "The political agreement on the FCAS is a big step forward and - especially in the current international context - an important signal of the excellent cooperation between France, Germany and Spain," it said, adding that "France assumes the role of project leader.” The statement can be found nowhere on the Elysée website nor social accounts.
Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier broke silence Monday morning, telling RTL radio that "There is a political pseudo-announcement that was made. I think that the German authorizations - which were difficult to obtain - came out and that gave rise to leaks. This is not quite done yet."
Putting pressure on France
The German defense ministry and Airbus hoped to pressure Dassault, which has been holding out for 18 months until its leadership of the Next-Generation Fighter part of FCAS is set in concrete, into relenting for the sake of the program’s launch.
#GIFAS industrial mission in #Germany: innovation, aerostructure, composites…. at the menu of meetings and visits today, at #Augsburg, near #Munich, at @Airbus #PremiumAerotec site. For more French & German #aerospace & #space #cooperation. pic.twitter.com/zQpzwIyWB5— GIFAS (@GifasOfficiel) November 16, 2022
Germany also faces pressure to close the deal from the Bundestag’s Budget Committee, which must approve the budget for the next Phase 1B, but which is reluctant to waste more time – and to earmark funding – for a program that is making no progress.
Airbus unleashed the P.R. initiative on Nov. 18, when the French (GIFAS) and German (BDLI) aerospace industry trade associations closed a four-day seminar in Berlin to intended to foster bilateral cooperation. Conveniently, GIFAS is chaired by Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury while BDLI is head by his direct subordinate Michael Schoellhorn, making it easier to coordinate the initiative.
In several interviews during the week, Faury had pushed the need for French-German cooperation in aerospace and defense, telling a press conference that “We need stronger cooperation between Germany and France, both in industry and in politics,” and later telling BFM TV on Nov. 16 that he was “very optimistic” on a future agreement with Dassault to advance the future combat aircraft project because FCAS “is absolutely essential for Europe.”
Schoellhorn, his German counterpart at BDLI, said during the same press conference that, if the FCAS program fails, he fears the loss of European technological independence. “There is no alternative to European cooperation. No country can manage such programs alone,” he added.
On Friday afternoon, Reuters and Bloomberg both carried stories citing unidentified industry sources claiming that an agreement had been reached by the French, German and Spanish governments to launch the next phase of FCAS.
These were shortly followed by a press release issued by the German Ministry of Defense at 19:00 CET saying that “After intensive negotiations, industrial agreements for the next phase of the program have now been reached at FCAS. Parallel to these industrial negotiations, it was also confirmed at the highest government level that a cooperative approach on an equal footing is being pursued in the project, which is under overall French responsibility.”
„Auf dem Weg in Richtung Luftstreitkräfte der Zukunft in #Europa zeigt sich erneut, dass wir die gewaltigen Herausforderungen nur gemeinsam bewältigen können“, so Verteidigungsministerin Lambrecht. #FCAS wird die Bundeswehr als auch unsere #Partner nachhaltig stärken. pic.twitter.com/oTKBy8R2sr— Verteidigungsministerium (@BMVg_Bundeswehr) November 18, 2022
This was relayed by Airbus at 19:01 CET, which tweeted its own statement which was not posted on its website.
The Spanish Ministry of Defense then also tweeted that “Spain, Germany and France have concluded the industrial agreement for the continuation of the NGWS/FCAS Project (Future Combat Air System / New Generation Weapons System), while and Indra, its lead company for FCAS, tweeted its own statement.
We can confirm that discussions among industry and governments on the next phase of FCAS have concluded which represents a big step forward for this European flagship defence programme.— Indra (@IndraCompany) November 18, 2022
France plays waiting game
While German industry chafes at the bit, the French position is more relaxed because it feels it holds all the cards. Fully backed by the French government, Dassault Aviation has so far resisted what it sees as undue attempts by Airbus to eat into its NGF work-share and prime contractorship.
Dassault CEO Eric Trappier maintains that FCAS can only succeed if each component is managed by an undisputed industry leader and, having accepted a junior role to Airbus on the Eurodrone program, will not allow Airbus to eat into its role on NGF. Trappier has also said on several occasions that he would not sign an agreement that does not give his company complete management control.
According to some French media reports, most of the contract between the three industry partners have been concluded, but two or three percent of the details have yet to be resolved.
There is some prospect that they may be finalized by the end of the week, in which case the deal could be announced at the end of the week, when French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is due to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.