The Bundestag Budget Committee’s Green Light on FCAS


Paris – The German parliament approved Berlin’s share of a budget worth €4.5 billion ($5.4 billion) for development work on a European Future Combat Air System, an industry source said June 24.

That long awaited June 23 vote by the Bundestag budget committee authorized funding for the German share of work on phase 1B of a technology demonstrator for FCAS, and funding for additional national work, the source said.

French and German defense ministers welcomed the parliamentary approval, along with the outgoing chief executive of Airbus Defense and Space, and the chief executive of MBDA, a European missile maker.

That parliamentary approval came with conditions which signalled a determination for close political control by the powerful Bundestag.

France, Germany and Spain are partner nations on FCAS and its Next Generation Weapon System, a core element comprising a next generation fighter and remote carrier drones.

FCAS includes a command and control network dubbed combat cloud, to link up manned and unmanned aircraft, and hook up aircraft including a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, A400M transports and MRTT inflight tankers.

The exact nature of the funding appeared to be rather complicated, as there was €1 billion beyond the €3.5 billion expected to be authorized. The three partner nations had been expected to contribute roughly a third of the core €3.5 billion.

The funding will apply to development work between 2021 and 2024. The industrial partners, Airbus for Germany, Dassault Aviation for France, and Indra for Spain were expected to sign contracts in the coming weeks.

The parliamentarians attached conditions for budgetary approval, a source close to the German side said, including insisting that intellectual property rights on key German technology be maintained.

That was intended as “a strong political signal to industry” in the integration of European defense industry, the source said.

Dassault has made French headlines, insisting on protecting IPR on the planned fighter jet. The family controlled company, which will be prime contractor on the  fighter jet, has said it would share technology on the new program but has resisted calls from Airbus to share know-how on previous programs.

The parliamentarians called for work on FCAS and NGWS to be kept in close parallel lines and for industrial partners to speed up agreement on the program structure.

There are estimates the overall budget for FCAS could be some €100 billion.

A further condition was for parliament to review industrial proposals before granting funds for phase 2, which will allow production of a technology demonstrator of the new fighter. That phase 2 is due to run 2024 to 2027, with the demonstrator fighter jet expected to fly in 2027.

There was relief for the German government, which had negotiated last minute revisions with the Social Democrats to win parliamentary backing.

France welcomed the German parliamentary approval.

“The Bundestag has just approved a crucial step for the construction of the FCAS and our future European fighter aircraft,” French armed forces minister Florence Parly said on a social platform. “Together, we continue to build a strong and concrete European defense.”

Airbus Defense and Space said on a social platform, “Big milestone achieved!” and tipped its hat in tribute to its outgoing chief executive, Dirk Hoke: “Chapeau, Dirk!”

Hoke is leaving Airbus DS July 1 and will pursue opportunities outside the aerospace company.

That Bundestag backing was “a key step towards contract award for a seamless and on-time continuation of this important European program,” Hoke said on his social platform account.

The FCAS project would boost “European operational and technological sovereignty,” he said.

“With our partners, we are committed to build the Future Combat Air System that will contribute to the European defencs and its sovereignty,” said Eric Béranger, MBDA chief executive.

Dassault declined comment.

The armed drones and nuclear weapon capability of FCAS presented problems for the Greens party, said a March 19 research note from European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.  The ecology party is expected to hold a position in the next German government coalition,

“For the Greens, as for the Social Democrats (SPD), autonomous weapons are a big ‘no,’” the note said. “Both see today’s remotely piloted armed drones as only one step removed from tomorrow’s fully autonomous weapon systems.”

The German air force flies the Tornado fighter, which carries US built atomic gravity bombs, and if Berlin dropped out of sharing a Nato nuclear capability with the retirement of the Tornado, there would be no need for a new fighter to carry nuclear weapons, the note said.

Even financing development of a nuclear capable system would jar with the treaty for prohibition of nuclear weapons, which the Greens have called for Germany to sign, said the note, titled “How Germany’s Greens could spell the end for the Franco-German fighter jet.”

There is a young “realistic” part of the Greens party, said the source close to the German side, indicating there would be backing for the FCAS.

Germany goes to the polls in September. The parliament closing for the summer break meant there was urgency for the Bundestag approving funding for FCAS.

Editor’s Note

The Airbus Defence team published comments highlighting the importance of this vote and understandably so.

This was good news to fund the next phase of the program.

Most of the press has highlighted the challenge of getting as one commentator has put it: “to get the nations to fly in formation.”

But there is an even larger problem, which has been largely ignored but which U.S. procurement history provides warning signs. 

The most relevant of which is the fate of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater program. 

This program launched a plan for an integrated, connected Coast Guard force to replace the legacy stove piped one. 

Sound familiar.

Yet it failed. 

It failed in part because of the challenge of being able to provide demonstrable progress in the overall system of systems versus progress with regard to individual platforms or capabilities.

The program was making clear progress understood from the standpoint of the program indicators themselves; but system of systems programs are complicated when it comes to briefing industrial committees in a legislature let alone the more ambitious goals of FCAS to show national gains within an overall program described as one providing “European sovereignty.”