All other European defense programs depend on this project, and its fate is in the hands of the Bundestag in Berlin, this Wednesday, February 12. The air combat system of the future (SCAF) announced on July 13, 2017, at a Franco-German Council of Ministers in Paris, must replace by 2040 the French Rafale and the German Eurofighter Typhoon, built in collaboration with the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.
It is up to the powerful budget committee of the German Parliament to say whether the first R&T contract (research and technology) should be funded or not, at a cost of 155 million euros over 18 months, shared equally between France and Germany.
Hurry up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will step down in 2021, and French President Emmanuel Macron’s term ends in 2022. The challenge is to get a second contract signed (at least a billion) euros) to make a first prototype supposed to fly in 2026. Once this demonstrator is funded, the program will be too advanced to backtrack.
European cooperation in question
The vote of the German deputies comes however at a delicate moment for the German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (“AKK”), weakened by the fiasco of the elections in Thuringia. Angela Merlek’s designated runner-up remains in government, but has had to give up the presidency of the Christian Democratic Party, CDU, as well as the idea of becoming chancellor in turn.
However, the SCAF, to which Spain has joined, is vital for the whole of European defense cooperation. It is in the aeronautics sector, where development represents a third of the costs, that the interest in pooling resources and skills is strongest. In the naval sector, design represents only 17 to 18% of costs, compared to 10% for land equipment. “If such a unique iconic program does not unite politics and industry, there is no reason why it should not be the case in other sectors”, explains Patrick Bellouard, president of Euro-defense-France, general engineer of 1re armament class.
Much more than a plane
Paris and Berlin had agreed on a balance to avoid disputes over governance: France to take control of the fighter of the future, while Germany would be at the helm of the other European flagship program, focusing on tanks (MGCS). Last June on the tarmac at the Paris Air Show, President Macron had unveiled a life-size model with great fanfare, making the sleek lines of this hyperconnected stealth plane public. “It’s much more than an airplane, it’s an aeronautical system that we could very well imagine coordinating a fleet of drones”, specifies Patrick Bellouard.
The industrial framework took a long time to be laid, after a hard battle opposing French and German interests. In November 2019, Paris and Berlin agreed on a principle that had yet to be formalized. Dassault has to take care of the airframe. More controversial, another French group, Safran, must take control of the development of the engine, relegating the German group MTU to the status of “First partner”.
This division of roles was not until then the taste of the budget committee of the German Parliament, become the lawyer of an MTU disappointed not to occupy the foreground, but which already had the eyes bigger than the belly, in the past on the development of the European TP400 turbo-processor. However, the agreement provides for the creation of a joint company for the production phase, with joint management between the two entities.