France was given development leadership of the sixth-generation European-made fighter jet program on June 19, 2018, with expectations to start study phase by the end of 2018 and demonstration phase in mid-2019. First deliveries are expected for 2040.

Defence Ministers - French Florence Parly and German Ursula von der Leyen - signed a letter of intention on June 19, 2018, that designates France as the leader of the next generation combat jet joint program, with the objective of starting the study phase by the end of 2018. The objective is for the studies to end by 2025 with a clear list of concepts and features that the new fighter should integrate.

The plane should be a sixth-generation fighter “adapted to modern aerial threats and using artificial intelligence” to work in collaboration with other aircraft and man combat drones. The fighter will most likely have a nuclear capacity and the ability to take off from an aircraft carrier, in order to fit with France strategic needs.

The next stage will be to define the industrial responsibilities of the companies involved in the project, the two main ones being French Dassault Aviation and German Airbus Defense and Space.

The new step marks the will of both countries to establish a common European defense. The program will open to other European partners in later development phases. The United Kingdom could be a potential candidate, as BAE Systems already develops a drone in collaboration with Dassault.

With France at the helm, Dassault will most likely lead the project, as its CEO Eric Trappier requested on February 28, 2018 in front of the French Parliament. “Dassault needs to be an architect of the program, as it is the most skilled company in Europe in the field of fighter planes,” said Trappier, adding there was a legitimate need for a new fighter plane in Europe to guarantee the continent’s sovereignty industrially and strategically.

But Dassault is not the only one with requirements regarding the program. On June 15, 2018, Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus - which should focus on the development of the fighter’s avionics - expressed his concerns about involving governments in the project. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Enders said the joint development of the new fighter jet “will be a success if we don’t let governments interfere with their demands for the use of specific suppliers and locations in certain countries.”

The latest agreement follows the signing of the High Level Command Operational Requirement Document (HLCORD) during Berlin Air Show. The content of this document, defining the strategic needs of both countries, was not publicly disclosed.