STUTTGART, Germany — The French defense minister has affirmed that France and Germany’s cooperation on Europe’s two largest arms programs remains ongoing, as lawmakers this week expressed concern over diverging political and industrial interests between Berlin and Paris.
Members of the Senate’s commission for foreign and military affairs sought answers from Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu during a Feb. 28 hearing about the state of Franco-German cooperation on weapons programs. Two major joint procurement efforts — the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, and the Main Ground Combat System, or MGCS — are taking years longer than planned to get off the ground.
The FCAS program — which aims to replace the fighter fleets of France, Germany and Spain, and provide a swath of new weapons and capabilities, by 2040 — only several months ago entered the Phase 1B pre-demonstrator step to develop a next-generation fighter prototype. That’s two years later than originally expected.
Meanwhile, the MGCS program, which is meant to modernize the German and French tank inventories by 2045, has not moved past its study and design phase.
Despite the delays, Lecornu expressed support for both programs, and for Franco-German cooperation writ large, during his hearing with lawmakers. Speaking specifically to the tank program, he appeared to attribute the delays largely to discord between the ambitions of the German government and its industry vendors as well as industry infighting.
“What the chancellor and ministers want does not always correspond to what industry wants,” he told the committee, referring to Germany’s Olaf Scholz. Lecornu also acknowledged the same can be true within his own office and with French vendors.
The German Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
But even more to do with Germany is the fact that Berlin’s industry players are not always in agreement with each other, Lecornu explained. “We can see that sometimes we ourselves are spectators to disagreements, not internally to the Germany political apparatus but within the German industry apparatus,” Lecornu said.
German company Rheinmetall and European business KNDS were awarded an 18-month contract for the MGCS System Architecture Definition Study—Part 1 in 2020. KNDS is a joint venture between Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and France’s Nexter.
Per Rheinmetall, the German and French industrial partners have jointly developed a concept for the implementation and realization of the MGCS technology demonstrators. They submitted that concept to the French Directorate General of Armaments and the German Defence Ministry in October 2022 for a review and decision, a company spokesman wrote in a March 2 email to Defense News.
“From an industry perspective, the next steps are therefore currently on the official side,” the spokesperson said. KNDS did not respond to requests for comment by Defense News.
Meanwhile, Germany last year announced plans to procure several dozen American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to replace the nuclear-carrying portion of its PA 200 Tornado fleet. Although the F-35 will not fully overhaul the German Air Force’s fighter fleet and the military maintains it is committed to the FCAS program, French industry officials pointed to the decision as a display that Germany was choosing to buy American over European collaboration.
Lecornu asserted that France needs to maintain these cooperative programs with Germany, not only to reduce the cost of such weapons to the French taxpayer but because of the importance of European partnerships writ large.
Remarking that Franco-German cooperation efforts — and the tension that can ensue — go back to the 1959-1969 French presidency of Charles de Gaulle, Lecornu asserted that patience is key, and that “whatever happens, we will need an aircraft, and we will need a tank.”
The ongoing debate over providing Ukraine with fighter jets also loomed over the commission meeting. Lecornu was questioned about France’s extra stock of 12 Mirage 2000C fighter aircraft, and whether he envisions providing them to Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian invasion.
Lecornu did not refer to the Mirages by name, but said the French government is holding discussions with Ukraine regarding fighter jets.
“There is no taboo on this topic,” he said, noting that the challenge of providing fighter jets to Kyiv rests in the maintenance capacity, as well as training Ukrainian pilots.
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.