By Pierre Tran
BOURGES/AVORD AIRBASE, France
France and Germany need to resolve political, industrial and operational differences hanging over projects for a new fighter jet and a new tank, a French senator said Sept. 13.
A New Generation Fighter is key to the planned Future Combat Air System, backed by France, Germany and Spain, while Berlin and Paris are also looking to develop and build a new tank in the Main Ground Combat System.
French parliamentarians, chiefs of staff and top industry executives at a plenary session of a Sept. 12-13 conference heard a summary of problems hanging over the two arms projects seen as cornerstones for future European defense.
The conference, dubbed summer defense university, was organized by CEIS, a consultancy, and backed by Dassault Aviation. The event was held at Bourges and Avord airbase, central France.
The conference is run on Chatham House reporting rules which ask for anonymity of speakers.
“Today, there is concern over FCAS,”said the senator, pointing out that France wants to pursue “operational capabilities,” while Germany seeks industrial content for its companies in a drive for economic gain.
There is also a German call for close parliamentary oversight of the FCAS program through a release of funding in small tranches.
France leads on FCAS, with Dassault Aviation as prime contractor, while Germany steers the MGCS tank project and a planned European medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle.
FCAS and MGCS may be separate projects but they have become closely related, as German parliamentarians have linked supervisory approval of one to the other.
Progress on FCAS depends on Berlin finding work to be assigned to Rheinmetall in Germany’s 50 percent in MGCS, the senator said. A US pension fund holds a large stake in Rheinmetall, the senator added.
The assumption had been family owned Krauss-Maffei Wegmann would hold the German stake in MGCS, with state-owned Nexter holding the French 50 percent.
Talks are still going on for how to share out the work between KMW and Rheinmetall, and it cannot be assumed there will be a 25 percent stake for each company, a European official said on the sidelines of the conference.
Rheinmetall supplies the turret, while KMW works on the chassis on the Leopard 2 heavy tank.
A senior French executive, also speaking on the sidelines, made it clear it was only “certain parliamentarians” which were holding up FCAS rather than the full German Bundestag parliament.
An operational issue to be resolved is how the new fighter jet will be able to carry the French nuclear missile and Nato atomic bomb, as the German air force flies the latter, supplied by the US, the senator said.
A further concern is need for an agreement between Berlin and Paris on arms exports, as FCAS will need foreign sales to help fund its program, the senator said.
An export agreement will soon be reached, a senior French official said at the plenary session, declining further comment.
President Emmanuel Macron and chancellor Angela Merkel reached an agreement at the G-7 summit at Biarritz on Franco-German arms export policy, with Berlin foregoing a right of approval if there were less than 20 percent of German content in value in a French weapon being sold abroad, afternoon daily Le Monde reported.
France wanted a lower level of German content, as that would have given Paris more latitude in pitching French arms in overseas markets.
That 20 percent threshold also applied for French oversight of German arms exports.
“When there is a big deal, like a fighter jet, it has to be discussed,” said François Lureau of EuroFLconsult. “There should be rules, but it is hard to generalize and foresee the situation in 30 years time,” he added.
There should be discussion and compromise, he said, adding that the Debré-Schmidt agreement on foreign arms sales had never been observed. That was a Franco-German pact dating back to the 1970s.
Lureau is a former procurement chief.
The arms export deal was included in a Franco-German treaty signed Jan. 22 at Aix-la-Chapelle, magazine Der Speigel reported Feb. 15.
French executives point up a tardiness of German delivery of components, seen as a bid to slow sales of French weapons. France and Germany compete in the world arms market.
There was a deafening silence at the conference on the UK’s pursuit of its Tempest project, despite the Sept. 11 announcement British companies had signed a statement of intent with Italian partners on cooperation for a new fighter.
The senior French official, however, did predict there would be cooperation with the British on the new fighter programs.
It made no sense to have two new European fighter programs and it was likely there would be a merging of the projects, a British executive said.
BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, and the British units of Leonardo and MBDA signed statements of intent with Avio Aero, Elettronica, Leonardo and MBDA in Italy to work on a “concept and partnership model,” seeking to share knowledge, product definition and technology development for development of a future combat air system
That industrial agreement followed Italy and the UK committing to work together closely on combat air capabilities including Typhoon, F-35 and Tempest.
There was no surprise Italy teamed up with the UK as both nations operate the F-35, a French executive said. It remained to be seen whether there would be funds for Tempest in view of the acquisition of F-35.
Italy had shown no interest in joining FCAS, and there is doubt whether Rome had sufficient funds, a French officer said on the sidelines of the conference.
On the proposal for the European MALE UAV, there is a vast difference between industry’s offer and what the governments are willing to pay, the officer said.
Armed forces minister Florence Parly said in her June 17 speech at the Paris airshow that industry needed to cut the price of the UAV.
“I say to them — and the companies know it — that this program will not get off the ground unless the drone they are proposing is competitive,” she said.
That pricing was not just for the launch nations —France, Germany, Italy and Spain — but prospective export clients, she said. An intensive negotiation was opening up, which she hoped would lead to announcement of a launch contract this year.
Airbus and Dassault are industrial partners, with the former in the lead on the UAV.
The French air force staged an extensive flying display of Rafale fighter, A400M transport plane and Puma helicopter at the airbase on the opening day. There was a display of ground troops attacking insurgents, supported by a low pass by Rafale and helicopter evacuation of a wounded soldier.
On the ground, there was display of armored vehicles including Jaguar troop carrier, high mobility vehicle, AMX10 RC fighting vehicle and Leclerc tank. The airbase supports the fleet of Awacs spy plane.
In a vast hanger, alongside an Awacs plane, there were many stands showing military programs and equipment.
Parly attended the conference.
For a look at Tempest, see the following:
The Next Phase of Airpower Transformation for the UK: Putting Team Tempest in Perspective