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Germany’s Next-Gen Fighter Jet Dilemma

While suggestions Germany is ready to abandon its next generation fighter jet project have been overblown, recent reports point to an increasingly tense Franco-German defence partnership. Ryan Denning dives into the dynamics of the Europe's multiplying fighter jet development projects.

Rumours have been circulating in recent weeks that Germany is considering leaving its €100bn sixth-generation fighter jet project with France and Spain to potentially join Team Tempest, the rival next-gen fighter jet project consisting of the UK, Italy, and Japan.

While suggestions of an imminent German withdrawal have been overblown, with German defence officials keen to reiterate their commitment to the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project, recent reports give a glimpse into the increasingly tense nature of German negotiations with France over the future of the project. Berlin and Paris evidently do not see eye to eye on a range of crucial issues relating to the project, primarily around capabilities, industrial workshare, and export arrangements.

That frictions over industrial workshare and technological independence have arisen should come as no surprise. France is notoriously protective over its aerospace industry, most notably withdrawing from Europe’s last major fighter jet collaboration project – the Typhoon – to develop the Rafale alone following disagreements over workshare and capabilities. As such, France is not used to collaborative fighter jet projects and the compromises that inevitably come along with them.

Rather than a sign that German withdrawal is imminent, the leak first reported in The Times may represent a negotiating tactic by Germany as a means of breaking the stalemate in the protracted talks. It adds to Germany’s leverage to remind the French that FCAS is not the only game in town and indeed is already a step behind Tempest, which may soon receive a further financial boost through Saudi Arabia joining the project. Were the Germans to jump ship, it would put the future of FCAS in a perilous position given the immense costs involved.

It has been speculated that jettisoning FCAS may indeed be Berlin’s ultimate intention. The Times has reported that at the heart of the current disagreement is German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s view that Europe cannot sustain two competing next-gen fighter jet programmes, with suggestions he would like to see FCAS and Tempest merge to better compete with the US Navy and Air Force’s ambitious sixth-generation development timelines. 

A single European programme may make sense from a cost perspective and in the interests of accelerating the development timeline, but it is difficult to see how any workshare arrangement would be politically acceptable to the various nations with leading domestic aerospace industries to safeguard. There are also different priorities in terms of design and capability of the next-gen fighter jet.

Indeed, in recent weeks Sweden has formally ruled itself out of future involvement in Tempest at least in part due to different views over workshare and requirements. One of the options now being considered by Sweden is developing their own jet. So, for those who argue that Europe lacks the financial and industrial might to support two distinct next-gen fighter projects – there may soon be three competing programmes. 

Whether that is sustainable remains to be seen, but the answer will be heavily influenced by the decisions taken in Berlin.

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We have a limited number of two and four person tables available to reserve in our lounge. Our conference lounge is the most prestigious lounge at Labour Party Conference venue, and is the ideal space for your informal meetings.

Please note that due to high demand for this space, bookings are limited to one table per person per day. If you would like to make additional reservations please contact your account manager or email labourdirectorate@ardenstrategies.com

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