COLOGNE, Germany — German and French officials emerged from a meeting in Toulouse, France, this week with fresh promises that a next-generation aircraft program and new European battle tank spearheaded by the two countries would advance soon.
The summit declaration follows repeated reports that both projects are at risk of failure due to political and industry-related differences. In the case of the Future Combat Air System — a next-generation fighter jet with sidekick drones — Berlin and Paris have long been at odds about the exportability of the future weapon, with Germany favoring a more restrictive stance than France. Airbus and Dassault are the two main industry players in FCAS.
The Main Ground Combat System — the two countries’ idea for a European tank ready for action in the late 2030s — had been caught up in a maneuver by German manufacturer Rheinmetall to take over the Franco-German industry team of Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, called KNDS. According to a report in Germany’s newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, officials recently came to an agreement in which Rheinmetall would become a subcontractor in the project, receiving 25 percent of the work share, with Nexter getting 50 percent and KMW getting 25 percent.
The aircraft and tank projects made it into the Toulouse declaration only in passing, expressed in the typical diplomatic rhetoric of bilateral enthusiasm meant to mask whatever problems brew underneath.
The envisioned cooperation “requires mutual trust and common rules,” the document read. Specifically, both sides negotiated a binding agreement on arms exports in Toulouse that would be implemented once unspecified “final steps” are taken, it added.
French newspaper La Tribune reported that the Oct. 16 meeting reiterated the objective of awarding study contracts for an FCAS demonstrator early next year. That means the financial commitments will now begin to grow larger, eventually reaching a level of billions of Euros in just a few years' time.
German lawmakers, meanwhile, are still awaiting details on exactly how the government plans to proceed. A formal spending request to the appropriations and defense committees was still outstanding as of this week, and a Defence Ministry spokeswoman declined to be specific on the envisioned timing in a statement to Defense News.
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.