Engine maker MTU Aero Engines has not ruled out the possibility that the planned development of a future combat air system (FCAS) between France, Germany and Spain, in which it is involved, could ultimately be combined with the UK's parallel Tempest programme to deliver a new pan-European fighter.
MTU chief executive Reiner Winkler acknowledges that the industrial prospects, particularly around exports, for both the FCAS and Tempest could be undermined by competition between the two.
Europe's current three competing fighter programmes – the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter and Saab Gripen – struggle to match the economies of scale, and therefore lower unit costs, achieved by their US rivals, making export sales harder to clinch.
Winkler says it would make commercial and political sense to have a single programme, rather than two or more new European fighters, but warns that a broader shareholder base would also increase the project's complexity.
A number of multinational military programmes, including the Airbus Defence & Space A400M transport and the NH Industries NH90 helicopter, have experienced difficulties relating to sprawling customer requirements.
With France and Germany having been nominated as "lead nations" for the current FCAS effort, the small number of initial partners should keep the development process comparatively straightforward, Winkler said, speaking at a financial results briefing in Munich on 20 February.
In 2018, the French and German governments agreed to pursue the FCAS project, comprising future manned and unmanned combat aircraft, which are scheduled to enter service by 2040.
Airbus and Dassault Aviation have been recruited to jointly build the airframe, while Safran Aircraft Engines and MTU were selected to provide the powerplant. Spain joined the effort in mid-February.
Meanwhile, the UK government revealed at the 2018 Farnborough air show plans for a separate programme, comprising a manned fighter and unmanned aircraft, with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce as the respective airframe and engine suppliers. Saab also recently indicated a strong interest in participation.
Winkler acknowledges that if R-R were to become a partner for the engine of any pan-European fighter, it would dilute MTU and Safran's shareholdings in the project.
But that might be acceptable if a combined programme led to improved sales prospects for the aircraft, he says.
Although industrial benefits could come from bringing the two projects together, Winkler says any decision to do so would primarily be a political one.