Europe’s next-generation fighter aircraft programme is now facing business ‘complications’ in the starting of the project itself. The two prime contractors for the project, namely Airbus and Dassault, seem to have now come to a tussle over the aircraft’s ‘feasibility’, and who leads the initiative.
On March 10, Eric Trappier, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation, was heard by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces of the French Senate, to discuss the relevance of the project and its viability.
The FCAS (Future Combat Air System) is a trinational programme involving Spain, France, and Germany, and brings together multitude of European companies led by Airbus and Dassault. While both the companies have agreed to a 50-50 share in the aircraft’s development, Trappier criticised the inclusion of Spanish branch of Airbus, stating imbalance in negotiations.
“If two states ally, they will make the decisions,” he explained. “How can we ensure our French leadership and our French project management in such an organization?”
“For the NGF and Pillar 1, it’s a two-person household, with Airbus and Dassault, but Airbus weighs two-thirds and Dassault a third. The situation is worse: the 50/50 equilibrium where Dassault held the leadership has shifted to two-thirds/one-third.”
According to Aerotime Hub, Airbus’ weight in the project already forced Dassault to make concessions. For example, Dassault reportedly accepted that about 50% of “work packages” were to be done without a designated manager and that the other half would be divided into three, leaving only a third for the French manufacturer to lead.
While there are more points of contention including those of Intellectual Property Rights and ownership, the Dassault CEO remarked that his company is ready for a ‘Plan-B’ in case the situation isn’t resolved.
However, on March 17, Dirk Hoke, CEO of the defence wing of Airbus along with Antoine Bouvier, the head of Airbus strategy, mergers and public affairs were called before the French senate to testify, just like Trappier was called a few days ago.
As the conversation ensured, Hoke stressed that there is no alternative to the FCAS program. Urging to calm the tensions amongst themselves, he said that “there is no plan-B”, in response to Trappier’s apprehensions. He tried to put a broader perspective of Europe’s greater interests, and that the failure of the programme would lead to more dependence on Americans.
According to Sebastian Spranger, writing for DefenseNews, a speedily inked deal is critical [for Airbus] so Germany’s parliament has time to study and approve it before the summer recess in late June, Hoke said. Timing and the political context in Germany is the reason why Airbus has largely kept quiet about the FCAS kerfuffle, he added, as there is no telling how the issue would fare if dragged into Germany’s election season.