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The defense ministers of France and Germany have declared that their plan to produce a new joint fighter can now begin. The project is part of an ambitious new defense strategy.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced plans to produce a new joint fighter jet on Wednesday.
The two spoke at Gennevilliers near Paris at a facility operated by Safran Aircraft Engines, which will produce the jet's new engine in collaboration with Germany's MTU Aero Engines.
Parly praised the joint venture on Twitter, writing that the new project would "affirm the close relationship between our air forces, in operational as well as technological terms."
Parly also made reference to the recent meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the western German city of Aachen, writing: "Some voices, little concerned with the truth, spoke out against the Treaty of Aachen. What we are doing today with the Franco-German fighter jet of the future is concrete, balanced, makes us stronger and prepares for the defense of Europe."
On Thursday, the relationship seemed to have suffered a minor setback when Macron announced he would not be attending next week's Munich Security Conference. Macron was scheduled to appear alongside Merkel during an event at the annual summit of high-ranking international leaders.
A spokesperson for the president told DW, "The president will devote himself to the great debate" which has seen Macron traveling the country to meet local leaders in an effort to quell domestic unrest.
Two years coming
Von der Leyen spoke of the larger scope of the defense project, announcing that France's Dassault Aviation and European manufacturer Airbus have already signed a contract to produce a concept study for a shared air combat system.
The fighter jet is one component of the Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS), with the manned jet operating in conjunction with other new weapons and swarms of drones linked to it by a so-called combat cloud.
The NGWS is itself part of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project first announced by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July 2017. The project is slated to include a variety of unmanned aircraft and missiles.
In January, Airbus Defense and Space and Dassault Aviation were awarded a €65 million ($74 million) two-year contract to develop the architecture and manufacturing structure of the new FCAS project. The money will be split 50/50 by the European partners.
Wednesday's contract signing was the culmination of two years of preparatory work by Airbus, Dassault, Safran and MTU. The French electronics company Thales and European missile maker MBDA will also be participants.
The new joint fighter jet will eventually replace Germany's Eurofighter Typhoon (seen here), as well as France's Rafale jets
Ready for use by 2040
By the time it is finished, the new jet will replace the Eurofighter and Rafale aircrafts currently used by the German and French air forces. Although demonstration flights are scheduled for 2025, the plane is not expected to go into use until 2040.
Von der Leyen, who called Wednesday's announcements an "important step," said, "we have to get started now if we want to manage it." Parly said: "This contract is the very first brick in a stupendous building."
The German defense minister noted that Spain is slated to join the project in the coming months, and a French armed forces representative signaled openness to more European partners getting on board as well.
The multi-billion dollar project was made possible after Germany heeded French calls to exclude Lockheed-Martin from bidding to replace its aging Tornado jets with the US manufacturer's F-35 Joint Strike Fighters last week.
The Tornado is outfitted to carry US nuclear warheads. Germany is required to have such planes as part of its obligation to NATO. France had objected to the F-35 bid because Paris considered it to be a direct competitor to the new Franco-German project.
js/ng (dpa, AFP, Reuters)