By Pierre Tran
PARIS – Perhaps future masters students in business and journalism schools will be presented with Europe’s future combat air system as a case study of how not to manage communications in a multi-billion dollar military project with political and industrial implications.
There seems to be a potential lesson in confusing the public readership with statements by the German government and companies on November 18 claiming an industrial agreement on the FCAS, seen as a symbol of European sovereignty, will supported by the partner countries France and Germany and Spain.
The reality is that no industrial agreement has been reached, said the CEO of Dassault Aviation, a key industry partner.
“Following intensive negotiations, industry agreements have now been reached at FCAS for the next phase of the program,” the German Defense Ministry said on November 18.
“Parallel to these industrial negotiations, it was also confirmed at the highest government level that a cooperative approach on an equal footing is being pursued in the project, which is under overall French responsibility,” said the Federal Ministry.
The heart of the FCAS is the new generation fighter jet, which is to be put into service in 2040 to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter fighter jets.
Industrial partners Airbus Defense and Space and Dassault have been in talks for more than a year to secure an order to build a technology demonstrator for the planned Phase 1B fighter jet.
Airbus DS is the German industrial partner, Dassault is the French partner and prime contractor, and Indra is the Spanish partner.
The French Elysée Presidential Office followed the German government with a statement sent exclusively to the AFP news agency, pointing to the positive political agreement on FCAS between the three partner countries.
Contrary to Berlin’s statement that an industrial deal had been reached, Paris said the industrial partners were “close to” reaching an agreement.
“The political agreement on FCAS is a big step forward and – especially in the current international context – an important signal of excellent cooperation between France, Germany and Spain,” said the office of President Emmanuel Macron, adding that France is the leading The project will be a partner. The French leadership’s latter point also contrasts with Berlin’s claim to “equality” on the project.
Visitors to the Elysée website that day would have learned about the importance of Macron’s visit to Thailand, which was part of attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, and also the President’s view on the importance of the French language.
But there was nothing about the FCAS and its importance for Europe at a time of conflict.
The French military ministry was silent.
On this day, the Spanish government’s website informs English speakers about the 36.682 billion euros ($37.687 billion) Madrid will receive from the European Union and how Spain surpassed eight million international passengers in October. There was nothing on FCAS.
The French media Les Echos, Le Mondeand La Tribune launched their websites late November 18 with what appeared to be a breakthrough in the long-running FCAS history. The afternoon paper Le Monde restated its story the next day, noting the lack of contracts signed by key industrial partners Airbus DS and Dassault.
Le figaro, a daily newspaper owned by the Dassault family, had no story on FCAS. In an interview in the Sunday newspaper, the FCAS was not mentioned JDD with Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu, nor any mention of Franco-German relations, a senior reporter for business magazine Challenges said on social media Nov. 20.
Challenges Revealed On November 19, the silence from the French Ministry of Defense and Dassault reflected the fact that a full industrial deal had not been reached.
“Ninety-eight percent has been agreed, but Dassault will not sign unless the remaining two percent is resolved,” a source close to the dossier told the magazine.
This two percent factor seems to indicate how the German policy statement may have overstated the level of industry approval.
This disconnect between political and industrial reality is evident in the statements made by Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault, when he went on RTL radio on November 21st.
“A political hoax was made,” he said. “I think the German permits – which were hard to come by – got through and that led to leaks.”
“Everything isn’t right,” he said, so it meant being a little ahead of yourself.
When asked if Airbus and Dassault had signed a contract, he said: “No, not at this time.
“We’ll see,” he said when asked if a signature could be made this week.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will visit Berlin on November 25, opening a political window for another announcement on FCAS if an industry deal is reached.
Trappier was invited to RTL in his capacity as President of the French UIMM trade association for the metallurgical industry.
Airbus DS and Indra said on social media on Nov. 18 that industry talks were “closed” immediately after the German Defense Ministry’s statement.
“We can confirm that discussions between industry and governments on the next phase of FCAS have been completed, which represents a major step forward for this flagship European defense program,” the companies said. The statement does not appear on their websites.
“Now some formal steps still have to be taken in the respective countries to enable a speedy signing of the contract…
“As such, we will provide further updates on the program and the way forward in a timely manner once the contract between industry and the three nations is ready for final signing.”
The powerful German Bundestag has to approve all spending above 25 million euros and its approval of the budget for FCAS seems to have led to a leak to the press.
That financial timesa British business newspaper, reported on November 17 that France and Germany as well as Airbus DS and Dassault were “close to formally entering a crucial phase” of the FCAS project.
There’s also a possible summit of French and German cabinet ministers on Jan. 22, the Politico website reported, which will be seen as an opportunity for declarations of cooperation on tough issues like energy and defense.
The backstory to the muddled news story is how German industrial partner Airbus DS has effectively sought to be joint prime contractor for the new fighter jet, while Dassault has resisted relinquishing its position as clear leader in program management and architect of the aircraft’s flight control system, Schutz intellectual property rights and division of labour.
Phase 1B of the demonstrator project is said to be worth around 3.5 billion euros, which will be divided equally among the partner countries. Negotiations for later phases of the FCAS work still need to be conducted.
The total value of the FCAS is estimated at 80 to 100 billion euros and the project includes remotely operated carrier drones and a combat cloud with an extended communications network.
The UK has pledged to fly its next-generation Tempest fighter jet demonstrator in 2027.