Workshare and project management concerns are threatening to derail the launch of the next phase of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) being developed by France, Germany and Spain.
Eric Trappier, chief executive of French fighter champion Dassault Aviation, says there are a “lot of hurdles” preventing an agreement between the nations to launch Phase 1B of the FCAS programme.
As part of the FCAS project, Dassault is leading the development of a Next Generation Fighter (NGF), while Airbus Defence & Space is the junior partner in the effort.
While initially a bi-national initiative between France and Germany, the inclusion of Spain last year has complicated the division of workshare, Trappier said during a full-year results press conference on 5 March.
France is represented by Dassault, while Airbus represents both Germany and Spain. That has led to a dilution in Dassault’s workshare from 50% to 33%, while Airbus now has 66%.
Trappier says he has “accepted” that reduction, but that it is essential that the “roles are distributed well” for the project to function properly.
If the one-third formula is applied to all work packages, “even the strategic work packages”, agreement will be harder to reach, he says.
“If I am told there is no leader in flight controls it cannot work,” says Trappier. If responsibilities are handed to Airbus solely to satisfy national workshare concerns “then it becomes difficult for Dassault to play the role of the prime contractor”.
Airbus accepts Dassault’s lead role, he says, but that is not necessarily the case between the three partner nations. That also applies to demands for shared intellectual property, he adds. “It is not between Airbus and Dassault, it is between the states.”
At present a single NGF demonstrator is planned, based on a Rafale fighter, but in order to preserve design capabilities German unions have called for a second aircraft to be built, using the Eurofighter as a base.
While Trappier says he has no issue with the idea of a second demonstrator aircraft, he points out that it would be built on the same production line and to the same specification as the original example.
At a technical level, the French industrial partners in the FCAS effort – Dassault, Safran, Thales and missile manufacturer MBDA – could in theory construct their own future fighter, but “the real question, the real challenge is efficiency”, he says.
“We are working together to be more effective, not for the fun of it.”
Despite the challenges, Dassault remains confident in the FCAS programme: “I don’t think that it is going to die soon, but I cannot say that the [project] is not at a difficult stage. That is where we are, but I still believe in it.”
Meanwhile, Dassault continues to work on the evolution of the Rafale in anticipation of an order from France for a fifth production lot expected in 2023.
Dassault took in no new orders for the fighter in 2020, although it has already secured contracts for 18 aircraft so far this year. Greece is to take six new-build aircraft and 12 used examples from the French air force, which has ordered the same number as replacements.
In 2020, Dassault delivered 13 Rafales – all to export customers India and Qatar. That figure will rise to 25 this year, again all to export customers. Shipments to France of the 40 jets it has ordered will begin again in 2022.