French Defence Minister Florence Parly and her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen announced the first part of their programme, which aims to create a next-generation warplane of their own and weapons for it, as they presented a two-year contract worth 65 million euros.
The fighter jet intended to eventually replace France’s Rafale and Germany’s Eurofighters is to become operational by 2040, while the first demonstration flights are expected in 2025. The contractors entrusted with the mission, funded by France and Germany equally, are Paris-based Dassault Aviation and Airbus, with its headquarters in Leiden, the Netherlands.
The ministers made an announcement at the Safran Aircraft Engines facility in Gennevilliers near Paris, which will design the new fighter’s engine together with German aviation producer MTU Aero Engines. Representatives of the two companies signed the deal in the presence of von der Leyen and Parly.
The French minister branded the contract “ambitious” and “the very first brick of a stupendous building”. The number of participants in the programme is expected to grow, as von der Leyen revealed that they will have Spain join “within the coming weeks and months”.
Additionally, future collaborators of the project include French electronics company Thales and European missile manufacturer MBDA.
The preparatory work for the milestone signing has taken nearly two years, as plans to design the next-generation Future Combat Air System (FCAS) comprising a new fighter jet and accessory weapons were announced by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July 2017.
In a friendly gesture to France, the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, decided against buying Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth combat aircraft, capable of performing both ground-attacks and air missions, in spite of earlier plans. It will now choose between US-based Boeing’s F/A-18 jets or Airbus’ Eurofighters for a $3.4 billion contract. Paris earlier warned that opting for the F-35 could hamper the development of the new Franco-German warplane.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed a new bilateral agreement aimed at boosting bilateral foreign policy, economic, defence, security, culture, and climate cooperation on 22 January.
Both leaders have pushed the idea of a joint European army for the bloc, something that would be part of the wider transatlantic NATO alliance, for the past year. In early November 2018, Macron called for the creation of what he touted as a "true European army", which he said would protect the interests of the bloc – a notion that was vocally supported by Merkel.
However, EU foreign policy and defence chief Federica Mogherini rejected the idea in November, just as NATO head Jens Stoltenberg warned that EU efforts should not compete with the alliance, which he called the bedrock of European security. Washington-Brussels tensions over an EU army followed multiple statements made by US President Donald Trump, who has accused NATO members of freeloading off the United States.