Airbus and Dassault Aviation have proposed to the governments of France, Germany and Spain to build a demonstrator under Europe’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project.
The two companies reached an agreement Friday that paves the way for political talks to resume among the governments, a source close to the matter told Reuters.
The FCAS program consists of a manned Next-Generation Fighter (NGF) aircraft, accompanied by drones of specialized capabilities, like reconnaissance and strike. It is envisioned as a futuristic air power weapon that will replace the Rafale and Eurofighter fleets in France and Germany beginning in 2040. A so-called combat cloud will pump command-and-control data between all program platforms, essentially creating a flying network of sensors and weapons with the NGF as its hub.
The project is expected to cost anywhere between $60 billion and $95 billion until 2040.
First floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the program has been dogged by political differences as well as corporate disagreements.
Airbus is unhappy being treated as a subcontractor while French jet maker Dassault leads the aircraft development.
“Dassault accepts that Airbus will receive a larger overall FCAS workshare but remained ready to pursue a ‘Plan B’ if the talks failed,” Dassault boss Eric Trappier said last month.
Airbus is, however, spearheading the development of the drones and the "combat cloud" ultrafast communications network that will use artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
In December, the Spanish industry signed the initial framework contract of the FCAS demonstrator phase. The contract confirmed Airbus as the lead in Spain for the NGF and prime contractor in the Low Observability domain of the European defense programme. Separate negotiations with engine makers – France’s Safran, German MTU Aero, and ITP, a Spanish subsidiary of Rolls Royce- are underway.
Parallel to the FCAS, another fighter jet project, the Tempest program, is taking shape. It involves Britain, Italy and Sweden.