STUTTGART, Germany – The Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program remains in a monthslong standoff that risks pushing back the first flight of its signature fighter, a senior industry official said Wednesday.
The program was supposed to enter its next phase late last year, but has been held up as prime contractors Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defence and Space have been unable to agree on the division of work for the next-generation fighter (NGF) aircraft element, Dassault Chairman Eric Trappier said in a mid-year earnings press conference.
“On the next-generation fighter, Dassault must be the uncontested leader,” Trappier asserted, adding that there has been some “issues of interpretation” between the two companies on what it means to be the prime contractor.
Dassault said in its financial statement released Wednesday that while it is the prime contractor for “Pillar 1,” meaning the next-generation fighter, “The prime contractor/main partner relationship is still to be clarified.”
“Dassault Aviation is seeking a clear statement of acceptance of its role as prime contractor by Airbus Defence and Space for the NGF,” the statement said.
The FCAS – also called SCAF, for its French name “système de combat aérien du futur” – program consists of seven technology “pillars,” of which the next-generation fighter is the centerpiece.
The other pillars include a new engine for the fighter jet, a next-generation weapon system, new remote carrier drones, advanced sensors and stealth technology, and an air combat cloud network. Dassault represents France’s participation in the program, while Airbus represents Germany, and Indra Systems leads Spain’s industry participation.
When the FCAS program was announced by France and Germany in 2017, the goal was to have a fighter demonstrator flying by 2025. By last year, that date had slipped to 2027, and now the schedule has shifted to 2028, Trappier said.
“We have already lost three years in two years,” he said, adding that if these workshare disputes reemerge between the two companies every two years, it will eventually become impossible to complete the program.
Industry officials last year already acknowledged the tough roadmap to field the full FCAS system of systems by 2040. The team completed Phase 1A, an 18-month research phase, late last year, and has been stymied ever since.
Airbus, for its part, is ready to move forward on Phase 1B, a company spokesperson said in a Thursday email to Defense News.
“So far, fair and balanced agreements have been achieved for six out of the seven pillars. A similar agreement still needs to be achieved on the remaining NGF pillar,” the spokesperson said.
“Airbus does not contest the overall NGF pillar leadership of Dassault. However, Airbus sees itself as a main partner, at eye level, and not just a supplier,” they continued.
Despite the ongoing impasse, France’s new defense minister appears determined to push the FCAS program forward.
Sebastien Lecornu acknowledged the “stalling” of the program in his first hearing as ministry chief before the French Senate’s defense and foreign affairs committee Wednesday, but asserted that he was working with his counterparts in Germany and Spain to gain ground. He has meetings scheduled with each country’s defense minister by early September, he told the committee.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom-Italy-Sweden FCAS program aims to fly its own combat aircraft demonstrator by 2027, British Defence Minister Ben Wallace announced this week at the Farnborough Airshow outside of London.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.