France and Germany have stepped up their efforts to develop a joint Future Air Combat System (FCAS) by awarding Airbus and Dassault a first contract for the project, while Safran Aircraft Engines and MTU Aero Engines have announced a partnership to build the aircraft's powerplants.

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, and her French counterpart, Florence Parly, signed an agreement on 7 February with the two airframers to conduct a joint concept study, worth €65 million ($74 million) for the programme.

This comprises both a manned fighter and unmanned aircraft, which are scheduled from 2040 to replace France's Dassault Rafalesand the Eurofighter Typhoons currently operated by Germany.

The two-year study will begin on 20 February and is based on an agreement signed by the two ministers at the ILA Berlin air show in 2018, covering common requirements for the new aircraft.

"With today's contract signature, we are finally setting this high-technology programme fully in motion," say Airbus Defence & Space chief executive Dirk Hoke.

Airbus and Dassault – which has been selected as the project's system architect and integrator – describe the deal as a "milestone to secure European sovereignty and technological leadership in the military aviation sector for the coming decades".

"This new step is the cornerstone to ensure tomorrow's European strategic autonomy… and keep our continent as a world-class leader in the crucial field of air combat systems," says Dassault Aviation chief executive Eric Trappier.

The "highly capable" manned combat aircraft will be fitted with "new and upgraded weapons" and be complemented by teamed unmanned aircraft.

Meanwhile, MTU and Safran have disclosed details of their partnership to jointly develop, manufacture and support the aircraft's engines.

Safran will “take the lead in engine design and integration” and be responsible for the combustor, high-pressure turbine and afterburner, while MTU will develop the low- and high-pressure compressors and low-pressure turbine, as well as having a senior role in aftermarket activities for the engine.

Their Aerospace Embedded Solutions joint venture will be responsible for engine control hardware and software.

MTU chief programme officer Michael Schreyogg says launching a technology and demonstrator development effort by June will be "key to the success" of the project.

Safran chief executive Philippe Petitcolin believes that FCAS will enable the French manufacturer to play "a leading role in the construction of a European defence industry".

The two engine manufacturers have previously collaborated via the Europrop International consortium, producing the TP400 engine for the A400M.