According to Greenpeace, the new “Future Combat Air System” planned for 2040 will be much more expensive than claimed. German industry is now demanding billions more for an interim solution.
From 2040, Germany, France and Spain want to introduce an ultra-modern “sixth generation” fighter jet capable of carrying nuclear weapons. According to the plans, this new “Future Combat Air System” (FCAS) has autonomous capabilities and consists of three components: The actual jet, drones that accompany it and a “combat cloud” in which other military units are also networked with each other. Key functions are performed by artificial intelligence (AI).
Companies from the three participating countries have been working together on this FCAS since 2018, with Belgium joining the project as an observer. However, the most important manufacturers are the European Airbus Group (with its German defence division) and its French competitor Dassault. The FCAS is currently in the construction phase, for which the governments of Germany, France and Spain agreed to release €3.2 billion a year ago.
In total, the development of the FCAS is expected to cost around €100 billion. However, as a recently published Greenpeace study has shown, this does not include significant factors: If the entire life cycle of the weapon system is considered, the expenditure amounts to up to €2 trillion, the study explains. According to it, maintenance costs up to the 2070s are particularly expensive. “A financial mortgage for future generations,” warns Christoph von Lieven, Greenpeace expert on peace and disarmament. This would inevitably mean cuts in the areas of social welfare and climate protection.
Civil society groups in Germany have been organising against the plans for several years in the “Stop FCAS!” alliance. With a tailwind from the Greenpeace study, they have now launched a new campaign. It is aimed at the members of the Bundestag, who still have to vote on the billions in spending.
In addition to the costs, the campaign also criticises the increasing robotisation in future warfare, for which several German companies are responsible as part of the FCAS. “Serious human control is impossible when fighting at machine speed. There are no regulations for military AI and autonomous weapons systems that would address the inherent dangers of the technology,” Christoph Marischka from the Information Centre for Militarisation told “nd”.
With the FCAS, the European aviation industry is entering “uncharted technological territory”, writes the German Ministry of Defence in its latest armaments report. In addition to technical challenges, the Franco-German cooperation on the development of the FCAS also poses political problems: Airbus is currently building the “Eurofighter” fighter jet, Dassault the “Rafale”; both are to be replaced by the new “Future Combat Air System”.
The two partner nations are therefore also competing in the FCAS for technological leadership, patent rights, national sovereignty and export interests. This recently led to turbulence between Berlin and Paris in the autumn, as British observers observed with malicious glee. The UK is currently also involved in the “Eurofighter” and is developing its own FCAS as a successor in the “Tempest” project.
According to the plans, no new “Eurofighter” and “Rafale” would be delivered to the German and French air forces from the beginning of the 1930s. This would mean that major orders for the large defence industries of both countries would be lost for a decade – assuming the development of the FCAS remains on schedule at all until 2040.
Presumably in order to fill the companies’ order books despite this, the German Foreign Office recently announced a licence for the export of up to 48 “Eurofighters” to Saudi Arabia for around €120 million each. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) announced in Jerusalem four weeks ago that corresponding missiles could also be delivered.
This is not enough for the defence industry, which is now demanding that Germany also order 100 additional “Eurofighters” to fill the production gap until the first FCAS is delivered. This should be a “fifth generation” fighter jet, which would contain components that will later be installed in the cyber fighter jet. The manager responsible for the Eurofighter programme at Airbus is calling for the German parliament to make a fundamental decision on this before the end of this legislative period.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Protest action by the “Stop FCAS!” campaign in front of the Bundestag (Hendrik Haßel/DFG-VK).