The European fighter jet project is entering the next phase

Europe’s biggest weapons program took a giant leap forward on Friday as Germany, France and Spain reached an agreement on the next phase of their much-delayed project for a new fighter jet.

After intense negotiations, the three nations have reached an industrial agreement to advance the Future Combat Air System project, the German Defense Ministry said on Friday.

It had also been agreed at the highest level of government that the project would take a “cooperative approach on an equal footing”, the ministry added, pointing out that it was “under France’s overall responsibility”.

“The political agreement on FCAS is a big step and, especially in these times, an important sign of the excellent German-French-Spanish cooperation,” said Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.

“It strengthens Europe’s military capabilities and secures important know-how not only for our but also for European industry.”

The Elysée confirmed the German announcement, which preceded “intense negotiations” involving senior political officials. The French Presidency added: “Once again it has been shown that we can overcome major challenges together.”

The agreement breaks the deadlock that has held up the program amid protracted industrial disputes over labor and technology sharing between Airbus and Dassault Aviation, the two key industrial partners involved.

Recent energy tensions between Berlin and Paris after the war in Ukraine had further complicated the situation.

The agreement paves the way for development to begin on the demonstrator jet, which is estimated to cost around €3.8 billion.

Launched in 2017 by Berlin and Paris – Spain joined in 2019 – the program is seen as a crucial building block for the region’s defense and security ambitions. In addition to the FCAS program, which France would lead, the countries also agreed to work together on a future tank project called the Main Ground Combat System, which Germany would lead.

Although industrial agreements were reached on six of the seven pillars of the FCAS project – which included manned and unmanned aircraft, space communications and stealth technologies – the divisions stuck to the seventh pillar – the next-generation fighter aircraft itself.

Dassault has always emphasized that it must be the clear leader in the development of the aircraft. Agreement on this phase should have been reached last year.

Airbus said the agreement “represents a major step forward for this flagship European defense program.”

However, she warned that “a number of formal steps” still had to be taken in the respective countries “to enable a speedy contract signature, which we must adhere to”. The company said it will provide further updates to the program once the contract between industry and the three nations is ready for final signing.

Dassault declined to comment. The European fighter jet project is entering the next phase

Adam Bradshaw

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