COLOGNE, Germany – Plans for a Franco-German combat aircraft are set to kick off in earnest at the Berlin Air Show later this month, officials told French media on the sidelines of a meeting of the two countries’ defense ministers in Paris on Thursday.

The idea of a joint “système de combat aérien du futur,” or SCAF, came out of a bilateral Cabinet decision last summer, part of a larger effort to promote the Berlin-Paris relationship in a militarily stronger Europe. The aircraft program would initially be led by Germany and France, and later opened to other European states.

As envisioned, the planes would take to the skies by 2040, replacing the fleets of Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon jets in both air forces. The project is seen as a key indicator for how – and if – Europeans can manage a truly large-scale project, especially given industry rivalries that lie beneath the often lofty diplomatic language.

French minister Florence Parly told the La Tribune newspaper that discussions were “active” between the two countries toward a first step in an eventual program. The goal at this point, she said, is to bring together activities on the political and industrial level. Airbus, Dassault, Thales, MBDA and Safran are among the companies to be involved.

French officials look to sign with Germany what Reuters reported would to be a 10-page common requirements document at the ILA Berlin Air Show, which runs from April 25 to April 29. Companies would then spend almost a year separately working on technical specifications before negotiating a cooperation contract, Reuters reported.

According to Parly, additional countries would be invited later. Her primary concern at this point, she told La Tribune, was to solidify the French-German “base” before opening the project for wider participation.

France also has a future aircraft program going with the United Kingdom. That program would continue in parallel, Parly said. Both programs would be “extremely useful” on the way to the “aviation of the future,” she said.

The Berlin Air Show is slated to feature a host of global defense policymakers and aviation industry leaders. Besides the SCAF announcement, companies are expected to use the show to jockey for position in a number of European procurements, including a planned multinational “Eurodrone” and, in Germany, a new heavy transport helicopter and air-defense system.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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