With respect to Europe’s three existing programs: Eurofighter, France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Gripen, and one that will shape the future of the European fighter industry, Europe is embarking on an expensive and politically charged effort to develop a new combat jet.
Development of a new sixth-generation fighter, which could involve a combination of manned and unmanned systems, is on the cards, according to sources and early talks had started on whether and how European countries could co-operate for that development.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s cooler stance toward Europe had given the effort some fresh momentum, said business executives and politicians at the Paris Airshow this week even though complicated by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
But the sheer cost of developing advanced military aircraft, the troubled history of past joint projects such as the A400M military transport plane, and bickering among European states and companies, are among the hurdles that they also warned about.
At a time when Europe is grappling with other expensive problems such as increased Islamist militancy and the influx of well over a million migrants from the Middle East and Africa, any project is likely to cost far more than the 10 billion-plus euros sunk into the Eurofighter, the last joint fighter built.
EU leaders are wary of effectively leaving the fighter jet market to the United States and in the face of a more assertive Russian military, EU politicians are determined to increase cooperation on defense and security.
“It’s the same with food. Some things you have to be able to do yourself,” Monika Hohlmeier, a German member of the European Parliament and chair of the parliament’s Sky & Space Intergroup, said.
The head of Russia’s MiG aviation firm has very recently said that the country is also working on a new fighter jet that would be “smarter, faster,” and could fly further and higher.
As it prepares for a more intense look at fighter options after the Sept. 24 election, Germany last month asked the United States for a classified briefing on the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter built by Lockheed Martin Corp. Germany has begun early work on a next-generation fighter.
Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Turkey are among the European countries that are slated to buy the F-35, which showed off its moves during its premiere at the Paris show. Showing interest are countries like Belgium, Finland, Switzerland and Spain.
But in a country with strong labor unions eager to safeguard jobs, buying the F-35 in Germany could prove politically difficult but it would help improve Germany’s ability to fight with key allies.
“We are already working on the Next Generation Weapon System, which has been initiated by Germany but with strong interest from Spain and other nations, as part of a bigger concept of future combat systems including unmanned aircraft,” Fernando Alonso, head of military aircraft at Airbus told a briefing ahead of the Paris Airshow.
“And I very much hope that we will see France involved in that because it is clearly very much in all our interest to see a common solution,” he added.
In the maturing Eurofighter program, which also includes Britain through BAE Systems and Italy via Leonardo, Airbus represents Germany and Spain.
Due to disagreements over the sharing out of work, with its Dassault Aviation going on to develop the Rafale fighter jet, France, however, dropped out of that project early.
(Adapted from Reuters)