Sixth-generation European fighter remains stalled amid industrial grudges | news

Ongoing tensions between industry partners involved in a trinational effort to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet appear no closer to resolution as efforts to progress the project have still stalled.

Airbus Defense & Space and Dassault Aviation were expected to sign a contract in 2021 to create a New Generation Fighter (NGF) demonstrator aircraft being developed for France, Germany and Spain as part of the broader Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Program.

However, this contract — known as Phase 1B — is no closer to the agreement, according to Eric Trappier, chief executive of Dassault, the prime contractor for the NGF work.

“We were ready to move on, but sometime between September and December it stopped. I don’t know how it’s going to start again,” he told FlightGlobal at last week’s EBACE Business Aviation Show.

While FCAS was initially a Franco-German project, the addition of Spain in 2019 has increased tensions, particularly in the NGF, where Airbus now represents both Berlin and Madrid.

“It’s not just a political issue, it’s also about dividing the work between Airbus and Dassault,” says Trappier.

“We have made great efforts [but] as for Dassault, we only have a third of the spot. We are the main architect taking overall responsibility before the defense ministries and we want to be able to take on that responsibility without Airbus always saying they want to do more.”

Dassault’s main objection is to insist that intellectual property related to flight control software is shared among partners. But Trappier points out that the system for the NGF demonstrator will be an “off-the-shelf” solution derived from a Falcon business jet.

“Why should we share our technology on the Falcon with Airbus? Airbus in Toulouse knows exactly how to design flight controls,” he argues.

However, with Germany and Spain likely to insist on full cooperation – or at least access to the technology – on the flight control system for any future production aircraft, it looks likely to remain a thorny issue.

Tension is also likely to be fueled by the fact that Dassault’s Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon – for which Airbus is the flight controls provider – remain competitors for sales of fifth-generation fighter jets, with neither side willing to give up a perceived advantage.

But Trappier compares the impasse at the NGF to the four-nation EuroDrone project led by Airbus and “we follow them,” he says, adding: “We’re not trying to say we need to know everything.” and they should do the same [on NGF].” Dassault develops the flight controls for the unmanned aircraft.

He says Dassault is still willing to sign the Phase 1B contract, but only within the previously agreed framework, not under rules “which are changed every three months” to accommodate demands from other parties.

And while the delay in Phase 1B activities continues, Dassault has had to deploy its project team elsewhere in the company. While a contract signing is still possible this year, “I need time to put the team back together,” he notes.

However, Airbus defends its position, noting that agreement has been reached on “all six other pillars” of FCAS development, “where even under defined leadership, each partner’s competence and capacities are respected and can participate in an equitable manner”. , it says.

“Airbus has made several proposals for convergence at the NGF as well, and we support any solution that respects both the capabilities of each partner and Dassault’s leadership and results in a fair settlement.”

“We are confident that a solution can be reached if the rules of cooperation agreed upon by nations are respected in the NGF, as is the case with other pillars.”

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