Airbus Defence & Space has urged Europe to come together to work on a future combat air system, warning that the bloc cannot support the development of several competing platforms.

Speaking at a pre-Farnborough air show media briefing, Dirk Hoke, chief executive of the division, said any programme for a sixth-generation fighter "had to be a full European solution".

Noting that three current platforms – the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab Gripen – have a combined 1,129 orders between them, Hoke says the situation cannot be repeated.

"To look at the current scenario and to develop two or more solutions for the market is not sustainable.

"It will bring [European industry] to the second league – we will not compete if we fragment the market further."

The initial work on the programme was launched at April's ILA Berlin air show with an agreement signed by France and Germany.

Initial signs are that Paris, via Dassault, will lead the effort, but Hoke says that "it will invite other key nations to the table".

The UK is a key "partner for the future", says Hoke, and believes there is "initiative in the UK to move forward".

"There is a discussion on how the UK and especially BAE [Systems] can join at a later stage," he says.

He says it is important that the Franco-German project define its requirements prior to bringing other nations on board, to avoid the complexity that has dogged other multinational defence programmes such as the Eurofighter and A400M.

"We have to be careful about not repeating the mistakes of the past," he says.

In the meantime, Hoke says that he remains "very optimistic" about the prospects for the Eurofighter programme – which Airbus Defence & Space produces alongside BAE Systems and Leonardo.

Campaigns are ongoing in Belgium, Finland, Switzerland – as well as its home market of Germany, as a replacement for the Panavia Tornado, which could deliver "a triple-digit quantity of Eurofighters".