By Pierre Tran
French armed forces minister Florence Parly recently highlighted the decisive role of the German Bundestag parliament in launching a Franco-German project for a technology demonstrator for a next-generation fighter.
Their votes for the project would be, in her view, a sign of political support for European defense.
“Parliamentarians of the Bundestag, your vote in the next few days on the FCAS demonstrator will have decisive importance and send a strong political signal on the determination of our two countries to build European defense,” she told French and German members of parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.
That fighter will be a key element in the Future Combat Air System, a project which brings Spain into the European FCAS club with France and Germany.
Meanwhile, in a Feb. 7 keynote speech on French nuclear weapons policy, president Emmanuel Macron said Brexit “hasn’t changed anything” in terms of cooperation between Paris and London.
The head of state was speaking at the War College, one week after the departure of Britain from the European Union.
Berlin requires that Bundestag approval to a long-awaited contract for a study of the next-generation fighter, with each of the two partner nations paying €77.5 million ($85 million), German daily Handelsbatt reported.
The overall budget for the demonstrator could be €8 billion, with further contracts signed late next year or in 2022, after German elections, the daily reported.
On the British side of the Channel, London is leading the Tempest project, with Sweden and Italy signed up to work on a concept and partnership model for an unmanned combat air vehicle, and other platforms. systems or capabilities which can be leveraged from the Eurofighter-F-35 foundation being built in the RAF and Royal Navy.
Parly spoke of the political commitment of France and Germany to pursue European defense alongside NATO membership, with her German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, at her side. The two ministers were attending the third Franco-German parliamentary assembly of 100 MPs, with 50 from from each nation.
French industry had hoped for the demonstrator project to be launched last June, with the signing of the studies contract slipping to end of 2019, and then to the end of January.
That contract hangs on the timetable of the Bundestag budget committee, which reflects the importance of German parliamentary oversight over central government and industrial policy.
“There is an awareness in Germany for the need for defense industrial policy,” said Gaëlle Winter, associate researcher at think tank Fondation de Recherche Stratégique, based in Paris.
That policy will partly be based on stricter supervision by the Bundestag, with the budgetary committee reviewing military acquisition contracts worth more than €25 million.
This close parliamentary approval dates back to September 1981, due to overspending on the “cooperative” Tornado fighter jet program that sparked grave concern in Germany, she said.
Britain, Germany, Italy pursued the costly Tornado program.
That need for parliamentary approval means arms acquisition is based on “co-decision” principles between federal government and the Bundestag, she said.
Some 44 parliamentarians sit on the budget committee, which has taken special interest in arms programs rather than simply fiscal oversight.
That close parliamentary scrutiny also reflects electoral interests of MPs, some of whom sit in constituencies with strong industry presence, she said. There is a move of the German state, including the länder regions, toward a greater “interventionist” approach, she said.
Meanwhile, future ties between Rheinmetall and KNDS continue to “poison the well” on FCAS, she said.
Rheinmetall’s efforts to ensure a share of work on the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) has stalled work on the project to build a new tank and connected manned and unmanned vehicles.
KNDS is a Franco-German joint venture between Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany and Nexter of France.
In France, there is a view the German authorization process is complex, which slows down the procurement of equipment.
“Cooperation with Germany is complicated on the operational level,” Army Gen. François Lecointre, joint chief of staff, told Nov. 6 the foreign affairs committee of the lower house National Assembly.
“I have discovered that the German decision-making system is more bound by the silos approach than ours, making it difficult for heads of central administration and ministerial representatives to reach agreement,” he said.
There is the importance of the Bundestag, he said, referring to a French MP’s question, while cooperation is marked by German industry’s determination to hold on to its work.
Britain’s departure from the European Union will break up the “E3” group, namely France, Germany and the UK, in which the former had a strong operational partner with the latter, while there was a “strong industrial partner” with Germany, he said.
On industrial cooperation, “the departure of the British will not be good for them, even if the One MBDA initiative remains, which will allow the pursuit of interesting cooperative projects,” he said.
The complexity of German procedure left France in a “complicated situation” in two major arms projects, he said.
The great technological leap — and the operational superiority that delivers — of the FCAS project is based on the “connectivity” of all the platforms.
“That will lead to, even if that will take time, first operational capability by 2038, which is to say tomorrow morning,” he said.
On the second major project, MGCS land system, he said, “I am rather worried about cooperation on the future tank, a Franco-German project which is moving too slowly.”
Parly told the French and German MPs an architecture study for MGCS was expected to be launched “very soon this year.”
While there was no choice but to pursue industrial and technological cooperation with Germany, Lecointre evoked an “existentialist crisis” in the light of Brexit, as “we have no choice but to absolutely maintain our operational cooperation with the United Kingdom….”
Both the British and French armies shared “the same intervention culture,” he said.
Parly said there would be a fair share in industrial cooperation on FCAS and the future tank.
“These are industrial projects worth billions of euros, tens of thousands of jobs, with export prospects,” she said.
“But these are first and foremost political projects: and we have collectively a responsibility, which is to build this European defense, which our two countries call for.”
The meeting of French and German MPs was the third formal assembly of the 100 parliamentarians since Macron and chancellor Angela Merkel signed a treaty of cooperation at Aachen in January 2019, seeking to bind Berlin and Paris close in economic, foreign and defense policy.
In France, that city is known as Aix-la-Chapelle.