REVIEW - History Repeating Itself As Europe Once Again Divided Over Warplanes

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 19th June, 2019) France, Germany and Spain signed a deal at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget on Monday to create a next-generation European fighter jet in an effort to reduce Europe's military dependence on the United States in the future, but not all major European actors came on board as the United Kingdom refused to join the three countries in favor of its own six-generation fighter jet project.

The situation is a clear reminiscence of the rivalry between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale at the end of the 20th century. But that last time it was France that walked out of a joint project with Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, which were creating the Eurofighter.

EUROPEAN JET DESIGNED TO 'FACE BATTLES OF TOMORROW'

The development of a new-generation fighter jet and a new battle tank was agreed on by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Macron in July 2017, with the French president having expressed hope that Europeans would be united in developing the defense systems of the future.

The project on the development of the next-generation jet, dubbed the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), fits in with Macron's ambition to increase European cooperation at a time when the United States under President Donald Trump is becoming more and more reluctant to support Europe militarily since Europeans do not spend enough on defense.

French aircraft manufacturers Dassault Aviation and Airbus, which were in the opposing camps at the time of the creation of the Eurofighter and Rafal, are set to build the future fighter jet, while France's Safran and Germany's MTU Aero Engines will jointly develop the new warplane's engine. Since the Spanish government joined the project a bit later, it will have a far smaller part of the pie in subcontracting work.

Meanwhile, the development phase will not start until 2030, and the system will not become operational in at least 20 years.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Monday that the deal on the creation of the air system demonstrated that Europe was capable of predicting the challenges that it might meet in the future.

The French and German governments are expected to invest 4 billion euro ($4.5 billion) in the construction by 2025, while the project leader, France, will contribute 2.5 billion Euros, according to the French Defense Ministry.

France tried to convince the United Kingdom to join the FCAS project, but the negotiations failed, allegedly over Brexit.

"Brexit was convenient for Macron, to explain the failure of the collaboration with the British. The United Kingdom does have a Tempest program ... and have created a competing [European] consortium of its own. It is a sixth-generation stealth fighter jet project proposed to be designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom for the Royal Air Force [RAF] and for the partner air forces," Pierre Henrot, a military consultant and former high-ranking NATO officer, told Sputnik.

Henrot noted that the initial research for the UK fighter jet was almost half as costly as the development of the FCAS project. Moreover, the UK aircraft may be operational as soon as in 2035.

"The Tempest will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, developed with the Germans, in service in the RAF ... The exact competitor with the French-German FCAS project, announced on Monday. So, we'll see again the Europeans divided by the production of two competing fighter jets, as was the case in the early 80s, with the French Rafale and the Eurofighter. It is again, the worst case scenario," the expert added.

Henrot noted that the situation was further aggravated by the fact that the United States was also developing its own next-generation aircraft and was likely to then promote it in Europe.

"We have two competing projects in Europe and the United States, preparing the next generation [fighter jet], after the F-35, and of course offering it to its European partners in NATO. The United States is so much stronger with firms such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics," Henrot said.

Jean-Paul Basquiat, a former senior French government official, also noted in his comments to Sputnik that the United Kingdom's refusal to participate in the FCAS project was a signal of division among European nations.

"It is good that this time, France and Germany collaborate, unlike what happened for the Rafale and the Eurofighter. But the failure to agree with the United Kingdom to work together on a joint project is a great disappointment. Europe remains divided, unfortunately," Basquiat said.

ITALY AND UK TEAMING UP ONCE AGAIN

The United Kingdom has already put together a credible consortium for its Tempest project apart from UK companies it also includes Italian aerospace manufacturer Leonardo.

"For the Italians, the British project is going to be the winner, in terms of timing, cost and exports," Henrot noted.

Alessandro Marrone, the head of the Defense Program at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) non-profit organization, also told Sputnik that joining Tempest was the best option for Rome.

"It is a strategic choice for Italy since Rome has to decide which next generation combat aircraft to develop ... while continuing the F-35 procurement and use ... For Italy, joining Tempest is the best strategic option. It should be rapidly pursued by Rome. This choice and the subsequent approach are crucial for the future of Italy's air power and defense industry - two fundamental pillars of the country's defense and foreign policy," the expert said.

Marrone noted that Italy and the United Kingdom would have an advantage over France and Germany in the development of a next-generation European fighter jet because they were the only major European nations that had lots of experience in interacting with fifth-generation jets, notably F-35.

"On the one hand, the United Kingdom is the only Tier 1 partner within the F-35 program, with a significant role played by BAE Systems [UK defense and aerospace company] and the possibility to benefit from preferential access to US interlocutors. On the other hand, Italy, as a Tier 2 partner, manages the only F-35 FACO [Final Assembly and Checkout] in Europe - besides building the central fuselage and the wings, as well as providing a number of components," the expert said.

Meanwhile, France is not that experienced when it comes to fifth-generation aircraft, and Germany did not get to use F-35s at all, Maronne added.

"Generally speaking, the United Kingdom has made more progress than France toward the next generation of fighter aircraft," Marrone said.

The expert also opined that the participation in the Tempest development would be more beneficial for Italy in terms of the importance of the country's role in the project, while the FCAS might create additional problems if it came to the division of labor and compatibility issues, which caused the rift in the case of Eurofighter and Rafal.

"The added value of the Tempest program lies in the participation of Leonardo MW Ltd, which would help Italian industry to be more involved in the next steps related to a number of key technologies and components, such as avionics, cells, sensor systems, communications, radar systems and electronics as well as training aircraft, integration and the release of weapons systems and cybercapabilities," the expert said.

According to an IAI study, the cooperation between Italy and the United Kingdom could later merge with the project implemented by France and Germany, joining the countries' efforts in ensuring Europe's military independence.

WHERE WILL EUROPE GET THE MONEY?

Europe does not have billions of Dollars that are being spent on defense in the United States and China to finance the development of new technologies that will be essential to develop the continent's military deterrents.

But the European Defense Fund or the Permanent Structured Cooperation framework may help find the funds for developing the next-generation jets.

"For us it is important that over time it becomes a real common European fighter jet system. It was not for nothing that we launched the European Defense Union and the European Defense Fund. We will have to develop a common European attitude, since we will harmonize our armed forces together in the European Defense Union, we will collectively procure systems," German minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday upon signing the FCAS deal with France.

Basquiat, in turn, warned that it was crucial for average-sized European nations to stick together to cope with rising arms development costs.

"The cost of weapon systems is increasing in real terms, enormously ... So, it is imperative for the medium-sized European nations to create consortia if they want to keep their technological capacity to develop sophisticated weapons systems," the expert said.

The United States, which has been the key supplier of weapon systems to NATO and their European allies since World War II, is closely watching the situation with the development of next-generation fighter jets in Europe.

The latest generation of fighter jets is dominated by US F-35, and Washington has already sold it to many European countries, with Poland being the most recent purchaser of almost 40 warplanes.

"Donald Trump and the United States are carefully monitoring what the Europeans are doing in terms of defense. Trump does not like NATO and the fact that the Europeans do not spend the agreed 2 percent of their GDP on defense, but he does not like either that the Europeans build their own weapons and turn away from the US offer of weapons systems," Basquiat said.

Washington already demonstrated its hostility toward Europe's defense independence when some European nations, notably France, started mulling over the creation of a European defense system, which would be independent from the United States.

"The idea of a European army ensuring European defense, as suggested by France, arouses such opposition from the United States that other NATO member countries, including Germany, are still hesitant to make the decision," Basquiat noted.

According to Basquiat, the United States has control over some of the technological skills necessary for the development of the next-generation fighter jets, and Washington can halt their transfer at any time.

"Europe could then appeal, on a foot of reciprocity, to Russian technologies. Why not?" the former government official said.

Basquiat noted that Europe had no claim to world dominance, unlike the United States, and that is why it was more interested in developing a multilateral world with Russia and China, where Europe would have its fair share.