Airbus and Dassault Aviation have reached an agreement to build a test version of the next-generation European fighter jet, after weeks of tense negotiations that cast doubt on the plane’s development, said Friday sources close to the project.
The companies are the pillars of a future combat air system (FCAS) intended to prove the continent’s ability to integrate its disparate defense forces and increase its military sovereignty.
A previous French-German plan to build a common fighter failed, leading to the development of the Rafales and Eurofighter planes currently in use.
But progress on the new stealth delta-wing jet has been plagued by battles over industrial labor sharing as well as intellectual property for advanced technologies.
France, Germany and Spain, the three countries involved in the program, “have received the offer from companies for the construction of a demonstrator of the future fighter plane,” said an official from the Ministry of Defense of French.
Discussions on the agreement on the various contracts underway for the ambitious project “are still ongoing between the companies and the states concerned,” he added.
Dassault of France and Airbus, the pan-European aircraft manufacturer representing German and Spanish interests, declined to comment.
French lawmakers warned this month that time is running out to move forward on the plane and its associated drones and network technologies, which are expected to cost € 50-80 billion ($ 60-95 billion ), to be operational as planned by 2040.
Dassault leads the development of jets, but Airbus executives have bristled at being treated as a subcontractor rather than a full partner, and want a bigger role in key parts of the job .
Still, Dassault has insisted on its expertise in the fighter jet industry, pointing the finger at its Mirage and Rafale planes, which it does not want to see operated by a rival.
Airbus, for its part, is spearheading the development of drones and the ultra-fast “combat cloud” communications network that will use artificial intelligence capabilities.
So far, no other EU country has signed up to build the new aircraft.
Several European governments are already customers of American fighter jets, while Britain’s Tempest stealth fighter project has received support from Italy and the Netherlands.