PARIS – Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier, whose company leads the tri-national New Generation Fighter (NGF) destined to replace France’s Rafales, Germany’s Typhoons and Spain’s EF-18 Hornets, has admitted that there is “trouble” afoot with implementing the program’s next stage, dubbed 1B.
The phase involves getting Spain and additional suppliers on board. The mandate to include Spain’s industry means that work share between Dassault and Airbus, instead of being split 50/50, is now split three ways, with Airbus holding 66 percent, as it represents Germany and Spain.
“I’ve accepted that,” Trappier said, “but it’s made sharing the work in all the packages, including the strategic ones, more complicated.”
The fighter program is part of the Future Combat Air System effort, which envisions networked drones accompanying the manned aircraft, and a combat cloud architecture pulling all elements together.
Trappier said that “we still believe in this program,” which was an “efficient” way for the three nations to develop a sixth-generation aircraft at a reasonable cost. However, he said any responsible chief executive “tries his very best to make Plan A work, but always has a Plan B.”
In this case it would appear that France’s Plan B is to go it alone on this program. Trappier pointed out that “in terms of technology, Dassault knows how to build aircraft alone. Safran knows how to make engines for combat aircraft. Thales knows about electronics, and MBDA missiles,” so French industry has all the know-how necessary.
Speaking at a virtual press conference Friday to announce Dassault’s 2020 financial results, Trappier explained that currently the partners “are butting against the one-third-each share of [industrial] work packages between us, Airbus Germany and Airbus Spain.” He explained that in the joint work packages “nobody holds responsibility.” He cited the flight control strategic work package as an example of an obstacle. “There’s no boss, but we are the prime on this program and as such are responsible to our government,” he said. “Dassault has to have the levers to action our responsibility.”
Addressing the issue of intellectual property he stressed that the “there will be no black box” in the sense that “all the states will have access to all the boxes.” But he remarked that “it is the creator who remains the owner [of the intellectual property], and we have 70 years worth of experience. Nobody can force me to give away our intellectual property.”
Regarding the prospect of a second NGF demonstrator, called for by German unions to preserve design capability, Trappier pointed out that this “is not planned for and has not been requested by the states,” and was a “problem between the states.” But he said that if there were to be a second demonstrator built, “it would be under identical conditions as the first one.”
Regardless of how the program proceeds, France’s sixth-generation aircraft “must be compatible with an aircraft-carrier, which obviously weighs on the decisions,” Trappier said.
Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.