By Pierre Tran, Paris
European industry needs much patience as key nations have yet to agree on requirements and budgets for a planned Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said Sept 4.
France, Germany and Spain have yet to sign contracts for technology demonstrators for the the New Generation Fighter (NGF), a key element in FCAS which includes remote carrier drones and a command and control network.
“We are very impatient,” Trappier told a press conference on the company’s first half financial results. The partner nations need to agree on specifications and budgets for the FCAS, in which the industrial partners have agreed their respective roles, he added.
“We are ready,” he said. “We submitted our offer.”
There had been hopes for a contract to be announced at the Paris airshow, which ran June 17-23, with prospects slipping to September and the end of the year, he said. Engineers are keen to work on a prototype rather than proposals, and need to develop their skills.
A prototype is due to fly in 2026, so the program needs to be launched, he said. Trappier declined to give details of the budget.
France and Germany plan to invest an initial €4 billion ($4.4 billion) in the new fighter jet by 2025, with €2.5 billion from Paris, Sky News reported June 17.
France is lead nation on the FCAS project, with Dassault prime contractor for the new fighter, which will replace the French Rafale, German Typhoon and Spanish F-18.
It was important for FCAS and a plan for a new Franco-German tank to be kept entirely separate, Trappier said, adding Dassault is working with Airbus on the former.
“We would really like the two subjects to be firmly kept apart,” he said.
Trappier has previously expressed concern over a potential spill over of a row over German industrial leadership on the tank project, dubbed Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).
“Progress is difficult,” he told May 22 parliamentarians of the defense committee of the lower house National Assembly.
Airbus and Dassault are working on the FCAS aeronautical project, while Rheinmetall is the new entrant in the tank deal, in which KMW and Nexter are partners, he said.
Rheinmetall objects to a proposed 25 percent share in the tank project, equal to the stake for Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, with the former seeking a greater role, financial website La Tribune reported May 15.
The French and German authorities proposed the 25/25 percent share for Rheinmetall and KMW for Germany, with Nexter holding 50 percent for France.
Trappier pointed up to parliamentarians “the slightly symmetrical nature of the FCAS project and the Main Ground Combat System in terms of organization,” adding “the difficulties of one could flow into the other as the same two procurement offices are involved.”
The French procurement office, Direction Générale de l’Armement, represents France in negotiations with Germany, where the parliament has a strong supervisory role.
Alongside the new tank, France and Germany are also pursing planned new artillery, dubbed Common Indirect Fire System (CIFS).
Meanwhile, Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo, are also waiting for contracts on the proposed European MALE UAV. Those are the three key companies on the project backed by France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Occar, the European procurement office, would manage that program if the four partner nations reach agreement on requirement and budget.
“You have to be resilient, you have to be patient on a large defense program,” even more so when there is cooperation with several countries and other companies, he said, adding that the MALE UAV project will apply for financial backing from the European Defense Fund. Trappier expressed confidence the project would win the contract.
Airbus is prime contractor on the European MALE UAV.
Germany is lead partner on the tank and European UAV cooperative projects, while France leads on FCAS. These projects are part of the pursuit of European defense as evoked by French president Emmanuel Macron.
In exports, Dassault will deliver the first of 36 Rafale to India this month, Trappier said. Now the elections are over in India, talks will resume for further sales of the fighter.
The Indian air force is keen to acquire a further 110 fighters, while the navy seeks 57, financial daily Les Echosreported July 22. Macron invited Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi to dinner a day before the opening of the G7 summit, held Aug. 24-26 at Biarritz, southwest France.
Dassault continues to take part in fighter competitions held by Finland and Switzerland, Trappier said, adding that he was surprised it took so long for Airbus to pull out of the Canadian competition for 88 fighters.
Dassault dropped out of that tender last year, as the terms were seen as unreasonable, particularly security requirements set by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), he said.
On the new generation fighter, Trappier called for Berlin and Paris to agree on terms for export controls as foreign sales would be needed to support the program.
Asked about Britain building its Tempest fighter and competing with the Franco-German combat jet, he said. “It is better to have two than nothing.”
French officials see that industrial capability as underpinning a strategic autonomy and national sovereignty.
The 2010 Lancaster House defense treaty between France and the UK will weather the planned Brexit move, as cooperation will continue, he said. Britain’s pulling out of cooperation on a technology demonstrator for an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) may have been for a number of reasons, such as Brexit or budgetary constraint, he said.
France is expected to place an order for 10 Falcon jets, comprising three Falcon 8X, dubbed Arcangel, for electronic warfare, and seven Falcon 2000LS, dubbed Albatros, for maritime patrol. The former will replace an aging two-strong fleet of C-160 Gabriel.
Dassault reported adjusted net profit of €286 million in the first half, up 54 percent from a year ago. Net sales rose to €3.1 billion from €1.71 billion.
Orders rose to €2.9 billion from €2.8 billion, helped by a 10-year service contract with France on the Rafale, based on Dassault’s acting as single prime contractor for maintenance of equipment, except for engines and ejector seats.
Adjusted operating income rose to €250 million from €111 million. The order book eased to €19.2 billion from €19.4 billion.
The cash holding slipped to €4.8 billion from €5.2 billion, with the company forecasting a further fall due to spending on export Rafales, development of two Falcon jet programs and new buildings as part of a modernization plan.
KMW has partnered with Nexter in a Franco-German joint venture, KNDS, which had been assigned as prime contractor for the new tank. Nexter is a French state-owned maker of land weapons, including the Leclerc tank and Caesar artillery.Bio Eric Trappier - Chairman CEO Dassault Aviation