COLOGNE, Germany ― The defense ministers of Germany and France have inked new agreements for the joint development of a new combat aircraft and a next-generation tank, key programs that could shape the European defense landscape for decades to come.
Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly signed the letters of intent on the sidelines of a bilateral Cabinet meeting in Berlin on Tuesday. The documents are meant to provide the necessary guidance to set up a program of record for the Future Combat Air System and the Main Ground Combat System.
A defense spokesman in Berlin told Defense News the agreement calls for the examination of potential management structures, for example through OCCAR, a European collective for joint weapons acquisition and management. The core members of OCCAR include France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Belgium, though other nations can partake in individual projects.
According to a German Defence Ministry statement, the signed documents establish the two governments’ “left and right boundaries” for the programs.
“Industry is now requested to fill the space,” the statement reads. “Both projects ... stand for technological quantum leaps that shall be approached together while integrating the strengths of each nation’s industries.”
Led by France, the Future Combat Air System aims to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon in Germany and the Rafale aircraft in France. The Main Ground Combat System, helmed by Berlin, will succeed the German Leopard 2 tanks ― used widely in Europe and beyond ― and the French Leclerc.
The new aircraft are envisioned to hit the skies by 2040, while the the new tanks are pegged to roll in the mid-2030s. Connected to the tank effort is also an artillery replacement plan, named Common Indirect Fire System.
While both projects initially are exclusively German and French, partner countries will have an opportunity to join once a “strong foundation” is established by the two lead nations, the German Defence Ministry said.
KNDS, a joint venture by German tank-maker Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and France’s Nexter, unveiled a European Main Battle Tank as an interim step toward the future tank program at the Eurosatory defense trade show in Paris last week. The next-generation combat aircraft project, which officials said will include a sizable unmanned component, is slated to enter a concept-study phase by the end of the year, according to the German ministry.
Both efforts are still some time away from formulating concrete military requirements, to which companies eventually can tailor their offers. That cooperation process is expected to be thornier than the agreement on political pronouncements so far that paint Germany and France as the motor of Europe’s new defense ambitions.
Absent from Tuesday’s joint statement was any mention of cooperative work on a new air-to-ground missile and modernization of the Tiger attack helicopter to a Mark 3 version.
The two ministers had announced at the ILA Berlin air show in April that the two countries would cooperate on the airborne weapon and the midlife upgrade of the combat helicopter.
A common weapon for both French and German Tiger helicopters would cut down integration costs for the missiles.
Pierre Tran in Paris contributed to this report.
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.