France and Germany have signalled their intention to co-operate on the development of a future combat aircraft to be produced after the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Part of a broader move to increase military co-operation and enhance export prospects for European products, the fighter initiative was referred to during a press conference involving French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris on 13 July.
Macron says the allies discussed "road maps" and joint investment opportunities concerning 18 equipment areas, including fighters, unmanned air vehicles, helicopters and military satellites. This should reduce duplication and enable the nations to more effectively pursue export opportunities, he adds.
In addition to the fighter initiative – more definition on which is expected by next year – the nations have agreed to further develop the Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack rotorcraft and complete work on a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned "Eurodrone".
"It is a deep revolution – but we are not scared of revolutions when they are done in a peaceful manner," Macron says of the closer working relationship with Berlin.
Reacting to the combined initiative on future combat aircraft, Eurofighter partner company Airbus Defence & Space says it “welcomes the announcement by the governments of France and Germany to jointly develop a next-generation fighter jet. Strengthening the Franco-German axis will help to safeguard critically needed European defence capabilities in the future.”
Fernando Alonso, the head of Airbus Group's military aircraft division, had used a pre-Paris air show press conference on 9 June to urge co-operation between the nations.
"We have to do this in Europe," he said, adding: "There's no place to do two or three different systems." Alonso also suggested that the activity could be conducted without the UK, due to uncertainty surrounding the industrial implications of its planned departure from the EU.
Commenting on the bilateral pact on 14 July, Chris Boardman, managing director of UK Eurofighter partner BAE Systems' Military Air & Information business unit, said: "The world is thinking about the next-generation fighter – Europe has now recognised what the rest of the world is doing".
BAE is already working with Turkish industry in support of Ankara's future TF-X heavy fighter, and Boardman also points to the company's close co-operation with industry in India and South Korea along with allies such as France and the USA. Additionally, the UK earlier this year agreed to exchange information on advanced combat aircraft technologies with Japan.
"I welcome it," Boardman says of the Franco-German pact. "I don't feel threatened by it, and would like to see how it matures and the concept of the next-generation fighter that France and Germany were talking about.
“I'm absolutely convinced that the UK and BAE Systems, one way or another, will have an involvement."