Gathered in Madrid on April 28, the defense ministers German Boris Pistorius, Spanish Margarita Robles and French Sebastien Lecornu, formalized the launch of phase 1B of the Future Air Combat System, or FCAS, program. This signature follows the industrial agreement ratified a few months ago by Dassault Aviation, Airbus DS and Indra, which made it possible to get out of the rut in which the program had been stuck for almost a year, around the piloting of its first pillar aimed at developing the Next Generation Fighter, or NGF, at the heart of the program.
Beyond phase 1B, which must carry out the initial study, the agreement signed by the 3 European ministers also provides that their countries will equally support the construction of a demonstrator at the end of the decade, with an overall budget of €8 billion allocated by Madrid, Berlin and Paris for this purpose.
If this event was an opportunity to celebrate the harmony rediscovered around the programme, it also allowed the ministers to draw certain lines as to the future of this European cooperation in the field of the defense industry. Thus, the French Minister for the Armed Forces once again highlighted the essential role of these European programs, with which he associated in particular the Franco-German MGCS new generation combat tank program, in the development of a real strategic autonomy of the old continent, in perfect alignment with the position expressed by the European Commission on this subject.
Above all, the ministers hinted that the SCAF program could be, in the relatively near future, open to other European partners, adding that several states have already expressed their interest in taking part.
Of course, the arrival of new partners within the SCAF program would open up many industrial, military and political opportunities. Thus, these first-rate partners would make it possible to significantly extend the industrial base of the program, by increasing the number of systems to be produced, whether these are NGF fighters themselves, but also all the systems of the program ranging from cloud combat to Remote Carrier and Loyal Wingman drones, munitions and simulators. Increasing the initial overall volume would allow manufacturers to size their production tool, and above all to plan for a longer window, with the key to reducing risks and therefore costs.
From an operational point of view, the arrival of new partners would make it possible to extend the interoperability of European air forces which, today, depend for a lot of US technologies around the F-35 for this, while streamlining maintenance procedures. and by reducing the cost of upgrading the device, even by pooling the training of personnel, so as to reduce and simplify many major constraints that they must face today.
Finally, from a political point of view, the extension of the program would make it possible to create, in a visible way, a real counterweight to the technological, operational and, consequently, political omnipresence of the United States in the conduct of European international policy. This aspect was at the heart of the Franco-German defense cooperation undertaken in 2017, but has been significantly eroded in recent years due to the rapid increase in military threats, including on the old continent, but also the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, a much more consensual American president than Donald Trump could be in his time.
Faced with the risk of seeing Trump or Ron DeSantis win the next US presidential elections in 2024, but also the essential pivot towards the Pacific of the US armed forces to face China, European strategic autonomy is regaining its appeal. , and is expressed in particular in the probable opening of the SCAF program to new European participations.
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