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Germany claims mutual consent forced FCAS demonstrator impasse

10th October 2019 - 09:56 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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The German MoD has strongly hinted that ‘mutually consented’ issues have prevented an anticipated FCAS demonstrator contract being issued to Airbus and Dassault, following pressure on decision makers from the manufacturers to deal with the matter urgently. 

Set to act as 50-50 partners on a future demonstrator programme, the two OEMs took the unusual step of raising the matter publicly by requesting political authorities ‘move forward by rapidly launching this demonstrator phase and committing the partner nations to a reliable funding plan’ in a joint statement issued on 7 October.

There was no mention within the statement of why those from government have so far failed to instruct Airbus and Dassault to launch the demonstrator phase or provide the pair with a demonstrator contract, but since then Germany has suggested that an agreement from all sides has not been reached – preventing a contract from being agreed.

‘Prior to signing a contract, all parameters and details must be mutually consented first.... [we] will not comment on the details/timelines of this process,’ a German MoD spokesperson told Shephard in a 10 October statement.

Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said: 'This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a mismatch where industry is eager to get on with a programme and politicians are more inclined to try and match budgetary timelines and take more of a relaxed approach to getting things underway.’ 

He added that the decision of Airbus and Dassault to originally go public with their frustrations possibly pointed to their industry message having been ‘first sent internally’ and not getting a ‘desired response’ from Berlin and Paris.

‘The ambitious target to have a system in service by 2040 prerequisites certain work packages being released in certain timeframes,’ an Airbus spokesperson explained to Shephard. ‘The teams are ready and even if 2040 seems to be a long way down the road, in order to build up such a technically and politically complex system, the time to go ahead is now.’

The latest industry position however, speaks of an uneasy partnership between industry and political elites raising further doubt over a programme that has recently witnessed Airbus openly criticise Madrid’s decision to select electronics manufacturer Indra as its preferred choice to lead the Spanish share of FCAS industry work.

During that episode, AFP reported in September, that Angel Olivares Ramírez, Spain’s minister of defence, ‘expressed frustration’ with the country’s state ownership share in the Airbus Group, which stands at 4% compared to 12% stakes held by France and Germany.

Justifying their decision to push for a demonstrator launch imminently, Dassault and Airbus added that ‘future technologies need to be developed now for subsequent flight testing and qualification’ in advance of a target for FCAS to enter service in 2040.

Despite those involved in the programme characterising it as the backbone of European defence air power, emerging difficulties are serving to support criticism of FCAS as an inferior effort to the rival UK-led Tempest project, the latter backed by Italy and Sweden.

‘Over the arc of a programme, if it has more than one nation involved there will be industrial and political tensions that bubble up and have to be managed,’ Barrie added. ‘Maybe we are seeing more of this with FCAS at the moment but that’s not to say in the future we will see similar tensions within Tempest.’

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