Mr. Schöllhorn, the development of the German-French-Spanish FCAS fighter jet system, consisting of drone swarms, data clouds and a so-called sixth generation aircraft, is progressing. It should cost up to 100 billion euros. That is a hefty sum, and completion before 2040 is not to be expected. Why is this project needed, especially since the American F-35 is already a modern fighter jet on the market?
It’s true that with the F-35, a fifth-generation fighter has now arrived in Europe. It has capabilities that older aircraft do not have, such as increased connectivity and sensors. But first of all, it’s an airplane that ultimately represents a real black box for everyone who isn’t American. The data is not easily accessible. Secondly, you cannot network your platform with each other. The F-35 is a closed system.
So will the FCAS aircraft be able to do significantly more than the F-35?
Yes. FCAS will use technology that an F-35 does not have, at least not today. Just replicating something European wouldn’t make sense. In this respect, we are building a sixth-generation aircraft that brings a technological boost. FCAS is a huge and important step forward for the European defense landscape. But it takes time to implement. In addition to the purely operational point of view, there is of course also the political desire in Europe to keep its own defense industry competitive and to promote its technological development. For this you need a project like FCAS, from which the civilian world also benefits through advances in digitization and networking.
The United States has so far been ahead in fighter jet development. Does Europe really have the resources to compete in this technological race?
The question is what is meant by “so far”. When I look at fourth-generation aircraft, like the Eurofighter or the Rafale, they can be compared to an F-16 or F-15. In this respect, European industry has always managed to get something technologically competitive on its feet in comparable periods of time. Of course, this is also our aim now at FCAS. It may even be the last chance that Europe can take another step in the field of digitization or the military Internet of Things after the civil train has left for America.
With the Eurofighter, Airbus has so far built its fighter jet together with Italians and British. At FCAS, however, their participation is not planned, instead the British and Italians are working together with the Japanese on a competing project called GCAP. Wouldn’t it make sense for Europe to join forces in one project?
Yes, that would be reasonable and I haven’t given up hope yet. But FCAS and GCAP are ultimately not only military, but also political projects. With Brexit and the resulting upset between the EU and Great Britain, there is currently no ground prepared for working together on large-scale projects. I think that could change again in the next few years. FCAS is not just the plane. The topic of remote carriers, for example, i.e. the networking of unmanned flying platforms, offers potential for moving closer together with the British, and ultimately you have to. We will see if and to what extent the two projects can come together.
As early as the 1980s, the plan by the Germans and French to build a fighter jet together failed because of Dassault’s claim to leadership. You seem to have accepted this now. Was it only possible to agree on the next FCAS work phase because Dassault is a cook and Airbus is a waiter?