The defence ministers of Germany, France and Spain reaffirm their commitment to the fighter aircraft of the future in Madrid

European FCAS wants to take off from a carrier armed with a nuclear missile

PHOTO/AFP - France has two unwaivable demands: that the FCAS should allow for the development of a naval aircraft version and that it should have the capability to fire its future ASN4G nuclear missile

The heads of the defence portfolios of Germany, France and Spain have chosen Madrid to stage the relaunch of the joint Future Combat Aircraft System mega-project. Better known as FCAS, it is a multi-billion dollar bid to arm itself with a fighter invisible to radar, enveloped by drones and all interconnected through a secure combat network in the cloud, an immense technological challenge. 

Considered to be the most ambitious European defence cooperation programme of all time, the FCAS has been blocked for more than a year because of political and industrial disputes between Paris and Berlin over the development of the fighter, the centrepiece of the initiative. Fortunately, an agreement was reached last December that has managed to move forward and put on track the important 36-month phase 1B, which is due to culminate in 2026 with the launch of a demonstrator aircraft.


With around €3.2 billion of funding provided equally by the three nations, phase 1B covers work led by France's Dassault Aviation, in conjunction with Germany's Airbus Defence and Space GmbH and Spain's Indra. The industry must increase maturity and make viable key disruptive technologies that should open up new avenues for the use of artificial intelligence, propulsion, stealth, manoeuvrability, optronics and connectivity.   

The summit between the three ministerial delegations, the Spanish delegation chaired by Margarita Robles, the French by Sébastien Lecornu and the German by Boris Pistorius, took place on 28 April and was the culmination of several meetings held in the strictest secrecy in Madrid - at the headquarters of the Air and Space Army Headquarters - in which the working teams of the three air forces tried to reduce their differences and show their points in common. 


Minister Robles stressed that the trilateral project highlights that the three nations "firmly believe in the defence industry" and described the initiative as "exciting and essential for our Air and Space Armies and for our industries" which, working in a coordinated manner "will succeed in creating jobs, talent, new industrial fabric and technology".  

Paris wants FCAS to have nuclear strike capability  

Planning teams from the air force staffs of the three partner countries, together with working groups from their industries, have defined five system architectures. Their aim is to go from five to two, with a view to submitting a final proposal to ministers by mid-2025 and establishing a single architecture to give them a free hand in the development of the FCAS system.   

The five competing architectures correspond to a dozen operational scenarios and outline the different configurations that the fighter will be able to adopt. Paris is focusing on deterrence and projection capability in order to be able to carry out a nuclear strike. For this reason, the French Air Force, headed by Air Force General Stéphane Mille - present in Madrid - has made two demands.


The first demand was to equip the European fighter with the structural and technological conditions to carry and fire the future French 4th generation air-to-surface nuclear missile. Called ASN4G, this is a programme that the manufacturer MBDA is currently developing with the expectation that it will enter service in 2035 and remain operational beyond the 2050s.  

The second demand of the French aviators is to equip the FCAS with the technologies and equipment necessary to convert it into a naval aircraft, capable of being catapulted and piloted on the deck of the new-generation nuclear aircraft carrier (PANG) of more than 300 metres in length and 75,000 tonnes of displacement. President Emmanuel Macron has given his initial approval to the PANG macro project, which will not become a reality until at least 2038 and involves an investment of more than 5 billion euros.  


The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, is looking for a dedicated air defence interceptor fighter to replace its Eurofighter. But that's not all. It is also considering configuring its FCAS to carry and fire the most advanced version of the American B61 tactical guided nuclear bombs, the so-called "model 12".  

Major absences in the French delegation   

Berlin has not yet confirmed whether it will be the FCAS or the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs it is buying from the United States to replace the Panavia Tornado fighters of the 33rd Tactical Air Wing, which are adapted to fire the B61 guided bombs that are the result of an agreement between Washington and Berlin. At a unit cost of around $28 million, they are stored at Germany's Büchel air base in Rhineland-Palatinate, near the borders with France, Belgium and Luxembourg.  


The French minister stressed that the FCAS will bring "groundbreaking innovations in key techniques for the benefit of air combat and in the service of European strategic autonomy". As the successor to the French Rafale fighters, Lecornu specified that he did not rule out the entry into the programme of "other partners, as long as it is of industrial and military interest". He was joined by the President of the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, Guillaume Kasbarian, MP, and the French Ambassador in Madrid, Jean Michel Casa 

Notably absent from the French delegation was Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation since 2013, the company leading the development of the fighter jet project, the heart and core of the FCAS. Also absent from the summit was Emmanuel Chiva, the head of France's Directorate-General for Armaments (DGA), the organisation to which the three countries have delegated contracting with Dassault, Airbus and Indra. In Chiva's absence, the second DGA strongman, Thierry Carlier, was in Madrid. 


German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, only three months in office, emphasised how much each country can do on its own, then went on to say that "most things work out much better if we do them together, and that is the maxim for the coming years: more joint projects, more joint responsibility".   

The German Minister was accompanied by the Secretary of State for Defence, Benedikt Zimmer, the head of Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, Michael Schoellhorn, and the German Ambassador in Madrid, Maria Margarete Gosse. As the FCAS is of transcendental importance to strengthen the Spanish defence business network, the institutional-industrial meeting was attended by the executive president of Tecnobit, Lluis Furnells, the president of Sener, Andrés Sendagorta, and the president of Indra, Marc Murtra. 

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