The Spanish Ministry of Defence, headed by Margarita Robles, has just been fully involved in the project for the future European fighter plane, the biggest defence cooperation initiative ever launched between countries on the old continent. This is a "project of state", the Ministry of Defence insists, to which the Ministries of Science, Industry and Finance also contribute.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro, has been entrusted with leading the commitment that places the Madrid government "on an equal footing" with those of Berlin and Paris in the preliminary steps to design and build a revolutionary multi-purpose air platform, to successfully combat the dangerous domain of aerospace, land and naval activity that will span the mid-21st century and beyond.
As head of the department's armaments, research and innovation policy, Esperanza Casteleiro signed on October 16 the document on Spain's accession to the so-called Next Generation Weapons System Implementation Agreement 2, which is part of the Future Air Combat System or NGWS/FCAS. A video conference was then held, in which her counterpart from the Bundeswehr, Lieutenant General Benedikt Zimmer, and the Director-General of Armaments of France, General Engineer Joël Barre, took part to learn about the status of the project.
The intergovernmental agreement now endorsed involves the full incorporation of Spain into phase 1A of Research and Development, which details the distribution of funding between the three nations. It also includes the distribution of workloads and ownership of intellectual property rights on disruptive technologies and system architectures to be on board future fighter jets.
The work is led by Airbus Defence and Space on the German side, Dassault Aviation on the French side and the Spanish technology multinational Indra, in its capacity as coordinator of the national contribution provided by Airbus DS Spain, GMV, Indra, ITP Aero, SENER Aerospace and Tecnobit.
The Spanish commitment is eight months behind the agreement already signed in Paris on 20 February by the French and German defence ministers, Florence Parly and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, respectively. In the French capital, the then Spanish Secretary of State for Defence, Ángel Olivares, was only able to sign a letter of intent regarding Spain's wish to join later, which has now become a reality.
The financial agreement consists of an initial contract worth 65 million euros to select and improve at least a dozen of the most promising technological architectures. Signed on February 6, 2019 and valid until the end of the first semester of 2021, the German and French Ministries of Defence assigned Dassault Aviation and Airbus to lead the Joint Concept Study that comprises the R&D&I activities of the seven technological pillars that have been identified.
A second contract worth 155 million euros is pending award to tackle phase 1A, once the industrial leaders of each country have submitted their work plans and bids. The green light has to be given by the three associated ministries of defence, a not at all easy task as the aim is to avoid developing a combat system that will become obsolete shortly after coming into service at the dawn of 2040.
The planned investment is around 4 billion euros until the end of 2026, when it is hoped that one or more demonstration aircraft will be available. A further ?8 billion will then be needed until 2030, when the first aircraft should fly. After that, and until 2040, the huge costs of industrialising the project have to be covered. To sum up, total figures are expected to be between 50 and 80 billion euros.
The expected result is a truly airborne system of systems that can cope with its main adversaries and penetrate and operate in areas of airspace protected by high-precision broadband detection radars and missile batteries. The aim is to relieve the French Rafale and German and Spanish Eurofighters with a stealth aircraft, invisible to radar, capable of conducting remote combat actions with drones of all types and sizes and possessing encrypted satellite connectivity.
The futuristic aircraft to be developed by 2040 will have to incorporate the most advanced disruptive technologies in artificial intelligence, data exchange, cloud combat, electronic warfare and even hypervelocity missiles still being developed. The resulting advanced products "will be largely dual-use and can be applied to commercial aviation", according to the Spanish industry managers involved.
The NGWS/FCAS project is an initiative brought forward at the Franco-German Defence and Security Council held on July 13, 2017 in Paris, a political forum which brought together President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and their respective defence and foreign ministers on that occasion.
The future Franco-German plane immediately aroused the interest of the Spanish Ministry of Defence, then headed by María Dolores de Cospedal. Both Germany and France and also Spain will have to replace their fighter planes in service half a century ago with a new aircraft that will remain operational at least until 2080. Its technological importance and its impact on industry and employment are such that "Spain cannot fail to participate", they stress in the sector.
However, the governments of Paris and Berlin gave top priority to establishing and consolidating the foundations of their industrial association, and the governments of President Mariano Rajoy and now Pedro Sánchez have therefore had to fall behind the interests and intergovernmental and industrial agreements ratified by the French defence minister, Florence Parly, and the German, Ursula von der Leyen, the current president of the European Commission.
Spain had to wait for the Franco-German Cooperation and Integration Treaty agreed on January 22, 2019 in Aachen and for the industrial contracts coordinated by the Paris and Berlin Defence Ministries. It was not until February 14 of that year that Minister Margarita Robles was in a position to sign a letter of intent to join the project; on June 17 she signed the framework agreement in Paris, providing the initial access to the NGWS/FCAS.