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  • OPINION: Franco-German future fighter still has many hurdles to overcome

OPINION: Franco-German future fighter still has many hurdles to overcome

Announcing that France and Germany were pressing ahead with development studies for a joint future fighter, French defence minister Florence Parly signed off her Tweet with a flourish. "Ca avance!" she wrote; "It's moving!"

So far, Parly's optimism does not seem too far misplaced.

The project has moved from a tentative pact last year to a concrete agreement between the two nations, with clear timelines and industrial partners lined up.

Dassault and Airbus Defence & Space are so far on board, with propulsion providers Safran and MTU also likely to form a separate partnership for engine development.

In addition to the initial pairing, Spain - another member of the Eurofighter consortium - appears ready to jump aboard.

Under the agreement, Parly and her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen will use next year's Paris air show - where else? - to present the initial research and development studies.

However, to say that the market for fighter aircraft is a complex one would be a spectacular understatement.

The head of Airbus Defence & Space, Dirk Hoke, has already cautioned that Europe cannot afford a scenario where its aerospace industry again develops three competing combat aircraft.

It was partly French intransigence and a desire to hand Dassault a leading role that caused the collapse of predecessors to what eventually became the Eurofighter consortium.

The result of that schism was the production of two markedly similar aircraft in the Rafale and Typhoon - spot la difference - with Saab also chipping in the Gripen to further complicate matters.

All have been successful in their own way, but sales - particularly export campaigns - have been eclipsed by those of US-built fighters.

There are already signs that Hoke's words are going unheeded, notably with the UK's pursuit of its Tempest programme via BAE Systems.

Tempest may yet attract other European nations - Italy, for instance, or Sweden - shifting, but not fundamentally altering, the overall picture in the bloc.

To again end up with two competing programmes would be sub-optimal to say the least, but the political winds appear to be blowing in that direction.

Even if France and Germany can forge an agreement that is robust enough to survive in the long term - after all, it was only a few years ago that Paris and London were cosying up to propose a future unmanned combat platform - there will be the usual developmental tribulations to provide a further test.

Remember that voters - who ultimately pick up the bill - do not like military programmes that spiral out of control and run billions over budget.

While it may not be as snappy as "Ca avance!", the phrase "slowly but surely" may be a better watchword.

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