After months of Franco-German political-industrial rivalries, the defense ministers of the two countries sign a contract in Paris on Thursday for 150 million euros to lead in 2026 to a first prototype of the future European combat aircraft.
"This is the contract that brings us on the road to a demonstrator in flight in 2026" of SCAF, the future air combat system, we summarize in the office of Florence Parly, the French Minister for the Armed Forces. A demonstrator is a kind of pre-prototype intended to validate the feasibility of a concept.
The French minister and his counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer must sign Thursday morning a government agreement confirming the launch of this phase of the project, called "phase 1A", scheduled to last 18 months.
The industrial notification contract will also be initialed by the project manager, the General Delegate for Armaments (DGA) Jöel Barre.
Finally, a letter of intent will also be signed between the two countries and Spain providing for the integration in the coming months of Madrid, which joined the SCAF project later, in research and technology studies.
Originally scheduled at the Paris Air Show in June 2019, the signing of this contract, financed "strictly half and half" between the two countries, came up against tensions between manufacturers from both countries and above all fears on the German side that the 'Germany loses in this partnership, of which France has been designated leader.
The release was allowed last week by the vote of credits by the Bundestag, which did not want "to deteriorate the Franco-German relations", according to a deputy.
But the parliamentarians expressed reluctance and demanded that the German executive ensure in length that the interests of the country are not sold off, in particular that the project of future Franco-German tank (MGCS), of which Berlin is leader, follows a development parallel to that of SCAF.
- Spanish participation -
The 150 million euros devoted to this phase of the project must be divided into five pillars.
The new generation combat aircraft (known as NGF or "New Generation Fighter"), of which Dassault is prime contractor with Airbus as main partner, has an envelope of 91 million euros.
The studies on the engine, developed by Safran with the German MTU, benefit from 18 million euros, the "remote effectors", from 19.5 million. These drones - on which Airbus and the MBDA missile will go - will accompany the aircraft and their role will be to lure or saturate the enemy's defenses.
A fourth pillar (Airbus and Thales) will have to develop a "collaborative combat" system making it possible to connect planes, drones, satellites and command centers. Some 14.5 million euros are devoted to it.
Finally, a fifth pillar with 6 million euros concerns the overall coherence of the project and the simulation laboratories.
Spain, with Airbus Spain and the defense electronics specialist Indra, is already involved for two million euros in the research and technology project. It is a "foreshadowing" of a "much more massive" participation of around 45 million euros, added "during 2020" to the 150 million put by Paris and Berlin, according to the cabinet of Florence Parly.
The amounts at stake are certainly limited compared to the global envelope of a program which will be operational by 2040. "But they will freeze the organization of all the rest of the contract", we argue similarly source. A total of 4 billion euros must be invested by 2025, 8 billion by 2030.
As for a possible future merger with the competing Tempest program which brings together the United Kingdom, Sweden and Italy, this is not discussed at this stage.
"What is certain is that we would not be indifferent to the fact that there may one day be a rapprochement between the two projects", according to the office of the Minister of Defense.
© 2020 AFP