© Reuters. Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trapier poses at the factory of French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation in Mérignac, near Bordeaux, France, on February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
PARIS (Reuters) – Dassault Aviation has expressed disappointment over a dispute with partner Airbus over work on the next phase of the European FCAS fighter jet program and said it was important to establish clear leadership.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS), beset by political and corporate divisions, aims to replace the Eurofighter and Dassault Rafale with a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft from 2040. The main government backers of the project are France, Germany and Spain.
“If I have the ability to be a leader, I accept to be a leader,” said CEO Eric Trapier, referring to Dassault’s responsibility for designing core fighter elements.
Dassault and Airbus have been at odds over responsibilities for flight control, but Trapier said Dassault was prepared to share some of the work as long as it was free to operate the first of seven project “pillars” involving the plane as agreed.
“We’ve done enough,” Trapier said, adding that negotiations have been “difficult” in the face of new demands since September.
Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some defense analysts speculate that disagreements over FCAS could cause the program to fail and reshuffle industry alliances.
Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said last month that “we will continue to work with our industrial partners with the aim of entering the next phase of development later this year”.
Dassault announced the results earlier on Friday, saying it aimed to reach an agreement on the next phase of the FCAS project, known as Phase 1B, by the end of the year. Trapier said the process “has dragged on for far too long in my opinion.”
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Dassault, which built France’s Rafale on its own after Paris pulled out of the Eurofighter program in the 1980s, has benefited from working with the fighter itself to develop the flight control system, Trapier told a news conference.
He acknowledged that Airbus has a reputation for advanced flight controls for its jetliners, but noted that its design bureau is based in France, not a defense factory near Munich.
Airbus represents Germany and Spain on the project, so work on its fighter jets needs to be handled by those countries.
Because it represents two countries, Airbus will take two-thirds of the industrial responsibility for FCAS, while Dassault will take one-third.
Trappier contrasted the FCAS disagreement with an agreement reached last week to launch a Franco-German-Italian “European drone” led by Airbus, whose flight control systems would be manufactured by Dassault.
Meanwhile, the French chief executive expressed concern over Germany’s initial decision to seek U.S. F-35 fighter jets.
Germany can buy US-made F-35 fighter jets lockheed martin (NYSE: ) to replace its aging tornado, Chancellor Olaf Schultz said on Sunday.
The move involves a tighter timetable and different roles than the broader FCAS project, but Trapier said others were focusing on Berlin’s historic policy shift.
“If the first decision after raising the (German defense) budget to 100 billion euros … is to buy the F-5 F-35, it will reduce our sense of support in the field,” he said.
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