According to the “Times”, the German Chancellor is considering merging European development projects for a new type of fighter jet. Saudi Arabia and its position towards the Hamas are also playing a role in the issue.
According to a report in the British “Times” from Wednesday, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is considering pulling out of the development of the most expensive fighter plane ever. The newspaper refers to “sources” familiar with Scholz’s deliberations. These said that the Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician was concerned that the “Future Combat Air System” (FCAS), now already estimated at €100 billion, could become excessively expensive.
The FCAS is being developed jointly by defence companies from Germany, France and Spain and is to replace the “Eurofighter” from 2040. As a “sixth generation” combat aircraft, it is also to have autonomous capabilities and consists of three pillars: The actual aircraft, swarms of combat drones flying with it, and an intelligent ” combat cloud” in which forces on the ground and at sea can also be integrated into air attacks.
The fact that the British press is now reporting on the possible cancellation of the FCAS project should be treated with caution. The UK is developing its own “sixth generation” fighter jet in the “Tempest” project and is working together with manufacturers from Japan and Italy. The companies BAE Systems and Rolls Royce are leading the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2035 – five years earlier than the FCAS. According to the “Times”, Scholz is therefore also considering merging the development of the two systems. In addition to European nations, the USA also wants to develop a “sixth generation” fighter jet, which should be operational by 2030.
In fact, there have repeatedly been differences between Berlin and Paris over the implementation of the FCAS. Among them, for example, the question of which German or French defence companies will receive orders for the project.
Germany has planned €40 billion for the project, the “Times” counts, and last week awarded a research contract worth €240 million for the “combat cloud” to seven companies. It will also investigate the integration of “airborne lasers”. The community includes Airbus as the main contract partner, the missile manufacturer MBDA as well as an association of the companies Hensoldt, Diehl, ESG and Rohde & Schwarz. A total of 35 large and medium-sized companies are to benefit from the contract.
In addition to the dispute over the FCAS, relations between France and Germany are clouded over the “Sky Shield” initiative. On the initiative of the German government, the procurement of air and missile defence systems by NATO states is to be bundled, with preference given to products from the USA and Israel. Scholz “has the feeling” that he has more in common with the British than with the French on these issues, the Times quotes an official as saying.
However, Scholz is also at cross purposes with the government in London. The German government refuses to agree to a British delivery of 48 more “Eurofighters” worth more than €5.7 billion to Saudi Arabia. These “fifth generation” fighter jets are jointly produced by Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, so any nation involved can block their export. The German veto is justified by human rights violations by Saudi Arabia, including the killing of thousands of civilians in the Yemeni civil war. However, the German chancellor is also upset that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not yet visited him in Berlin, writes the “Times”.
Now the pressure on Germany and the UK on the “Eurofighter” issue is mounting: Saudi Arabia has asked France to make a rival bid for the supply of its Dassault and Rafale-produced fighter jets.
“Circles” in Scholz’s three-party coalition, however, told the “Times” that they were increasingly confident that the sale of the European fighter jets to Saudi Arabia could take place soon. The Green Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, who as Minister of Economics is also responsible for arms export controls, is considered to be in favour of the delivery.
However, Habeck explicitly sided with Israel in the Middle East conflict on Wednesday with a much-noticed speech on X (better known as Twitter). In Berlin, Paris and London, what is now important in the fighter jet issue is how Saudi Arabia positions itself towards Hamas.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: FCAS NGF mock-up with “Drone Carrier” at Paris Air Show 2019 (Tiraden, CC BY-SA 4.0).