Potential failure of FCAS and MGCS must be anticipated for 2025, says Senate report

Structured in 2017, the FCAS and MGCS programs then represented the two main pillars of a Franco-German initiative desired by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, to commit Europe to a more autonomous trajectory in terms of defense, with at its heart, the two main economies and demographic powers of the European Union.

Since then, the initial enthusiasm has given way to growing distrust, if not of the authorities, at least of part of public opinion, industrialists and even the military, on both sides of the Rhine. , while difficulties have multiplied, bringing each of these programs to the brink of implosion.

Despite a trajectory that is now more secure, although not guaranteed, following vigorous intervention by the political authorities of the participating countries, many questions remain in the public debate around these programs. A new report, from the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, will certainly further increase the concerns surrounding them.

This recommends, in fact, anticipating a possible failure of the two programs, vigorously committing to the development of interim solutions to deal with the revision of their timetable, and above all implementing a deadline, in 2025, to assess the interest for France in maintaining, or not, its participation in these European initiatives.

FCAS and MGCS, programs with a tumultuous history

It is true that since their launch in 2017 for FCAS, and even in 2015 for MGCS, these two programs have experienced chaotic journeys, to say the least. Thus, after the initial political euphoria, both quickly encountered two major obstacles: divergent objectives of the different armies having to implement the equipment, and an industrial sharing that was most complex to articulate.

The MGCS program is now aiming for a deadline beyond 2040, perhaps even 2045.

For FCAS, which must make it possible to design the entire air combat component of the next generation, and not just the combat aircraft at its heart, the German needs, aimed at a heavier fighter more intended for air defense, and French, with a lighter fighter capable of operating from its aircraft carriers, but also of ensuring nuclear posture, were already difficult to harmonize.

However, it is the industrial sharing which posed the most significant problems, between a French aeronautical defense industry capable of operating the entire system independently, a German industry capable of achieving this to more than 75%, and the Spanish BITD , less experienced, but very ambitious.

If certain pillars found their balance, others, in particular around the design of the NGF fighter itself, and its flight controls, aroused intense opposition between the French Dassault Aviation and the European Airbus DS, both believing that they have the skills and experience to manage this pillar.

These tensions between the two European leaders of aeronautical design brought the FCAS program to the edge of the precipice. It only owed its salvation to the determined intervention of the three supervisory ministers of France, Germany and Spain, imposing a firm industrial guideline, at least for the study and prototyping phase which extends until 2027. .

FCAS Lecornu Robles Pistorius
The FCAS program was broken from the impasse in which it found itself thanks to the joint intervention, in 2022, of the three supervisory ministers concerned (from left to right), the French Sébastien Lecornu, the Spanish Margarita Robles and the German Boris Pistorius.

The trajectory followed by MGCS was essentially the same as for FCAS. However, initially, the program started on more solid foundations, having been entrusted since 2015 to the Franco-German joint venture KNDS which brings together, in equal parts, Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, while the program, too, was financed in equal parts. equal by Paris and Berlin.

However, this failed to get off the ground, largely due to expectations that were difficult to harmonize between the French Army and Das Heer, its German counterpart. Above all, in 2019, the Bundestag ordered that Rheinmetall join the program, causing a profound imbalance in its management, but also in its industrial sharing, leading to violent jousting between Nexter and Rheinmetall concerning the management of certain key aspects, such as the main gun of the armored.

A new time, it was the French and German ministers, Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius, who had to intervene, a few months ago, to get the program back on track, although certain key obstacles have not been removed, particularly regarding the divergent expectations between French and Germans.

France will have to decide in 2025 about these programs, according to a senatorial report

If, today, the two programs seem to have emerged from the ruts in which they found themselves thanks to a firm political recovery, their future, on the other hand, is still far from guaranteed.

Char Leclerc
French Leclerc tanks will have to undergo a major makeover, including the replacement of their powertrain, if they hope to remain operational after 2035.

Furthermore, while they initially aimed for entry into service around 2035 for MGCS, and 2040 for FCAS, they slipped respectively between 2040 and 2045 for the replacement of Leclerc and Leopard 2, and from 2045 to 2050, for the successor of Rafale et Typhoon, which raises important questions regarding the additional interim period, for which French planning does not, to date, have a solution.

Un recent report from the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on the subject of credits for the equipment of the forces (program 146), within the framework of the draft Finance Law 2024, takes, on this subject, a clear vision as to the risks linked to these two programs, and the actions which should be undertaken by the government, to mitigate them.

Written by Mr. Hugues SAURY, LR senator from Loiret, and Ms. Hélène CONWAY-MOURET, socialist senator representing French people abroad, the report warns in particular against the risks of failure of one or the other of programs, or even both, and on the situation in which the French armies, as well as the national defense industry, would find themselves in such a scenario.

Rafale Marine
The Rafale M of the French Navy delivered from 2000 to 2004, will certainly have to be withdrawn from service from 2035, due to the accelerated wear and tear of on-board aircraft subject to significant constraints (landing, corrosion, etc.)

According to the senators, it is now necessary for France to define a final arbitration date regarding its participation in these two programs. A deadline of 2025 is proposed in the report, because it makes it possible to evaluate the progress of the two programs throughout 2024 to determine their chances of success or, on the contrary, to admit that the difficulties encountered would represent too great obstacles to have the necessary guarantees as to their success.

The delays in these programs threaten the effectiveness of the armies, according to the Senate

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