The members of the Bundestag, the German Parliament, have approved the funding for the development of a technology demonstrator of the New Generation Fighter (NGF) on February 12, 2020. The approval comes as a decisive step for the Future Air Combat System (FCAS) program to move forward. However, the vote did not erase all their reservations.
Some MPs have reiterated their concerns ahead of the vote and asked to better take into account the German industry’s interests in the project’s development. They also requested that the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), the tank program led by Germany, advance at the “same pace” as the FCAS, an uncanny condition given the numerous differences between the two programs. Moreover, the delay in the MGCS is mostly due to Rheinmetall, a German company whose recent acquisition of Krauss Maffei Wegmann unbalanced the industrial distribution of the program.
Despite the reticence, the Parliament unlocked the first €77 million euros necessary for the demonstrator to take shape. It is expected to cover a period of 18 months of research and development.
The bittersweet decision was summarized by Rainer Brandl, the project’s rapporteur to the Budget Committee. “We will do it because we do not want to deteriorate Franco-German relations just before the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron this weekend in Germany for the Munich Security Conference”, explained Brandl to AFP.
The contract for the demonstrator was awaited since the Paris Air Show in June 2019. Airbus and Dassault Aviation, as well as their partners, MTU Aero Engines, Safran, MBDA and Thales, have welcomed the news as “a major step forward”.
They detailed the Phase 1A subprograms:
Next Generation Fighter (NGF) with Dassault Aviation as prime contractor and Airbus as main partner, which will be the main element of the Future Air Combat System;
Unmanned systems Remote Carrier (RC) with Airbus as prime contractor and MBDA as main partner;
Combat Cloud (CC) with Airbus as prime contractor and Thales as main partner;
Engine with Safran as prime contractor and MTU as main partner
While the distribution of the five pillars seems perfectly balanced between the French and German respective industries, one major element is missing: Spain. Thus, the next step will be to find a place for the country’s industrial participation in the later phases of the program.
The demonstrator is expected to take to the skies in 2026 at best. Despite the good news for the project that had been stagnating for the past year, the development remains subject to the approval of the German Parliament whenever new funds will need to be allocated.