COLOGNE, Germany — The air forces of Germany, France and Spain have agreed on a set of performance benchmarks to help their governments guide the development of a next-generation fighter jet set to fly in 2040, the German military announced Tuesday in a statement.

The document, approved earlier this month, is meant to help officials identify what features from a collection of 10 possible system architectures are worth keeping when the time comes to settle on a path forward for the Next-Generation Weapon System, or NGWS.

That system, with the manned next-gen fighter at its heart, is slated to become the central element of the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, the most ambitious and expensive weapons program in mainland Europe. As envisioned, a small fleet of attack and surveillance drones, or “remote carriers,” would accompany each jet, and all elements would be interlinked by an artificial intelligence-powered “combat cloud,” according to a project description.

The 10 different system architectures for NGWS currently in the mix lean in different directions — for example, when it comes to armaments, maneuverability and range of the main jet and its companion drones, the German Bundeswehr statement explained.

The three air force top officials — Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz of Germany, Gen. Philippe Lavigne of France and Javier Fernandez of Spain — also agreed on a “Common Understanding Connectivity,” a guide for connecting national systems into the future FCAS scenario.

The document will enable the program’s partner nations to “synchronize” their respective development programs, according to the German statement.

The industry leads for the Future Combat Air System program, Airbus of Germany and Dassault of France, unveiled a mock-up of the future fighter jet at the Paris Air Show last year. The plan is to begin testing a prototype in 2026.

Earlier this year, France and Germany formally kicked off the next phase of the overall program, with each government contributing $85 million toward the development of technology demonstrators.

German lawmakers, who fear an overtly strong French industry influence in the FCAS program, have linked the project to progress on the Main Ground Combat System, another highly visible bilateral program aimed at building a common battle tank.

France has the lead on the next-generation fighter, while Germany leads the tank project.

The German parliament’s strategy of keeping a close watch on the aerial program by approving only relatively small tranches of money has Dassault CEO Eric Trappier worried about the ability to hit deadlines, French newspaper La Tribune reported last week. Speaking before a French Senate committee in mid-May, Trappier proposed a Franco-German programming law to ensure a more rapid development pace, according to the newspaper.

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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