France and Germany to develop new European fighter jet

Macron will give a speech on his views for the futurre of the EU 48h after the German elections. [Julien De Rosa/EPA]

France and Germany unveiled plans yesterday (13 July) to develop a European fighter jet, burying past rivalries as part of a raft of measures to tighten defence and security cooperation.

The move to develop a new warplane accelerates steps that are expected to shape the future of the European fighter industry and its three existing programmes – the Eurofighter, France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Gripen.

The move also reflects efforts to give fresh impetus to Franco-German relations in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and was described by defence experts as a snub to Europe’s leading military power.

France and Germany aim to come up with a roadmap by mid-2018 for jointly leading development of the new aircraft to replace their existing fleets of rival warplanes, according to a document issued after a Franco-German cabinet meeting in Paris.

“Today there are too many European standards and qualifications and sometimes there is competition among Europeans internationally,” French President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference, flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I can confirm this is a deep revolution but we are not afraid when they are carried out peacefully, in a structured way and over time,” Macron said.

France and Germany said their new combat system, which analysts say could involve a mixture of manned and unmanned aircraft, would replace the Rafale and Eurofighter, rival jets that compete fiercely for global sales.

That would mark the end of a decades-long split since France withdrew from the Eurofighter project in the 1980s to produce its Rafale warplane with Dassault Aviation.

Defence industry experts called the move a setback to Britain and its leading arms contractor, BAE Systems.

“It is a sign to the British. It means ‘you are leaving the EU and we are driving forward. We are no longer interested in you blocking the EU on defence’,” a senior German defence industry official told Reuters.

Britain out on a limb?

The joint declaration did not say what role, if any, Britain would play in the Franco-German-led development. The country is Europe’s biggest defence spender and a partner in the Eurofighter project alongside Germany, Spain and Italy.

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France and the United Kingdom – both permanent UN Security Council members with close defence and security ties – agreed to cooperate on nuclear and missiles technology in 2010, but some French officials have expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on defence.

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Some analysts and defence officials said the Franco-German push to create a new fighter could drive Britain further towards industrial and defence cooperation with the United States.

Currently, Britain has a foot in both camps through the Lockheed Martin F-35 and a share of the Eurofighter programme through BAE.

“It is almost inevitable that the UK would consider a new partnership with America for the next generation of fighters,” said Alexandra Ashbourne-Walmsley, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank based in London.

“The UK has accepted that it can’t build another fighter on its own, both as a natural evolution from the F-35 programme and also because of economies of scale since having a small part of a U.S. project is worth more than a Franco-German programme.”

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However, Thursday’s declaration is also seen by some as just the opening move in a long and unpredictable European negotiation affecting defence firms including BAE and its Eurofighter partners Airbus and Leonardo.

Paris and Berlin also agreed to set up a cooperation framework for the next model of the Airbus Tiger attack helicopter and for tactical air-to-ground missiles.Brexit

In addition, they will work together on procuring ground systems including heavy tanks and artillery and said a contract was expected to be signed before 2019 for the military “Eurodrone” project, which also includes Italy.

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