COLOGNE, Germany – Airbus executives said they don’t see a viable Plan B for the embattled Future Combat Air System, as suggested by Eric Trappier, CEO of co-contractor Dassault, earlier this month.
Antoine Bouvier, Head of Airbus Strategy, Mergers and Public Affairs, and Dirk Hoke, CEO of the defense division of the aerospace giant, testified before the French Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on March 17 to resolve tensions in the trinational program to calm down SCAF in French.
Airbus and Dassault are the two main contractors for the program, with the work share split equally between the partner countries France, Germany and Spain. The participants had envisaged starting the next project phase, phase 1B, by the summer. However, recent disagreements over governance practices and the disclosure of industry secrets have put the future of the program into question.
The two Airbus executives tried to link the success of the program to the broader vision of a more independent Europe. Failure would mean Americans could sell their F-35s to a continent in need of its own advanced fighter aircraft industry, argued Bouvier.
“There is no plan B,” he said, taking up a suggestion that Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault, had made a week earlier to the same committee.
The Dassault boss complained that the division of labor after the inclusion of Spain would make his job as the main risk taker for the central element of the program, the next-generation fighter, almost impossible. In addition, Airbus is on the right track to become too dominant a player as the company is also rooted in Spain and Germany, he argued.
Trying to dispel the idea of Dassault being outplayed, Bouvier instead emphasized the Airbus team agreements, which include other heavyweights in French industry like Thales and MBDA. Airbus is firmly anchored in French defense, he said, suggesting not to consider the company too German when it comes to FCAS.
According to Bouvier, the tendency on both sides goes something like this: Some Germans believe that the French want to build a French aircraft with German money, while other French believe that the Germans want to steal their trade secrets and build their own weapon.
The “abuse and polemics” surrounding the program – the French business newspaper La Tribune recently destroyed the German FCAS motifs in a series of articles – began to “pollute” the debate, warned Bouvier.
Speaking in French during the personal committee meeting in Paris, Hoke said Airbus had made a new offer to Dassault to keep four of six strategic work packages. In addition, negotiations were held on the contract language for phase 1B in order to preserve the unique know-how of the companies in critical areas. “Easier said than done,” said Hoke.
Speed is crucial for a deal to be reached, so that the Bundestag has time to study and approve it before the summer break in late June, Hoke said. The timing and political context in Germany are the reason why Airbus has largely remained silent about the FCAS kerfuffle, as it is impossible to predict how the problem would develop if it were dragged into the German election season.