Berlin (AFP)

Will the future European combat aircraft, which is supposed to replace Rafale and Eurofighter in the long term and give a new dynamic to European defense, will it see the light of day? Its future largely depends on a vote on Wednesday by German deputies.

At the end of several months of political-industrial rivalries between Germany and France, the members of the Budget Committee of the Bundestag are called in the afternoon to decide on the release of 77 million euros in appropriations for launch the first major stage of the project.

The aim is to finance studies with a view to the construction by 2026 of a demonstrator of the new generation European combat aircraft (known as the NGF or "New Generation Fighter").

The outcome of the deputies' vote is however "very uncertain", judges one close to the file, because many elected officials in Germany have felt from the start to have to do with a project dominated by the French defense industry.

A negative vote could jeopardize the whole project and add to tensions between Paris and Berlin, whose relations are already not looking good.

This aircraft, which should enter into action around 2040, is the centerpiece of the SCAF (Future Air Combat System) program, which also combines drones and future cruise missiles.

- "Decisive importance" -

A positive vote would open the way to the notification of contracts to manufacturers involved in the project, in particular Dassault, Airbus or even Thales. And relaunch a program that skates.

The French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, put pressure on German parliamentarians on 5 February in Strasbourg.

Paris and Berlin have the "responsibility" to "build this Europe of Defense", she launched.

"This is why, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Bundestag, your vote on the SCAF demonstrator will be decisive and will send a strong political signal," said the minister.

The project had already taken an important step in December. An agreement had indeed been reached between the French engine manufacturers Safran and the German MTU on the industrial distribution of the development work on the engine of the future aircraft.

The two companies notably agreed to create a 50/50 joint company.

The file had been in trouble for several months, leading Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron to threaten in October to notify the first study contracts, without waiting for an agreement between the engine manufacturers.

Since the distribution of tasks between Safran and MTU, several players on the German side, including members of the Bundestag, have sought to reverse their favor over this agreement.

- Competitor project -

The SCAF, with which Spain is also associated, constitutes, with the Franco-German tank program MGCS (Main Ground Combat System) one of the main projects for the development of the future Europe of defense.

"Behind the barbaric name of + SCAF + hides the project which conditions the future of French and European combat aeronautics, as well as the affirmation of a defense policy to strengthen the security of the continent", summed up in June 2019 Jean -Pierre Maulny, deputy director of the Institute for Strategic International Relations (Iris).

The SCAF program is "therefore the symbol of the ability of Europeans to come together behind the same defense project", adds the researcher, pointing to the current "division" between Europeans.

The British indeed announced in 2018 their desire to develop a competing project, the Tempest, and were joined by Italy and Sweden.

These divisions led Mr. Macron, for whom NATO is in a state of "brain death", to urge the Europeans on February 7 to develop a "greater capacity for action" in the face of world disorders.

In particular, Mr. Macron proposed that Europeans who so wished be associated with the French nuclear deterrent force, for example by participating in exercises.

© 2020 AFP