Revival of the Franco-German engine?
In the last couple of years – and decades – the German defense industry has been underperforming due to the German political elite’s reluctance to face current challenges such as migration and armed conflicts facing Europe today. Nevertheless, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country’s Zeitenwende promoted a historical change in the country’s security and foreign policy.
While Germany’s foreign policy was revolving around the notion of the “Wandel-durch-Handel” principle placing trade and cultural relations first, Russia’s action has seem to fundamentally changed German political thinking. The German Chancellor’s speech would make the country more proactive in defending Europe’s interests around the world and while the speech is historically significant, only small progress has been made in shifting the country in an age of emerging risks and military challenges. Until now. The German Chancellor’s meeting with the newly appointed French prime minister Attal -if even only verbally- have revived projects such as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS). The former would replace the Eurofighter which would succeed Germany’s Leopards and France’s Leclerc tanks.
The Eurofighter developed in the 1990s as a 4th generation fighting jet is planned for a phase-out in the coming decade, while the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) would reach full operational capability by 2040. The difference between the two technologies is, that FCAS would work as a “system of systems”, meaning that next generation fighters would work together with drone systems, satellites and remote carriers utilizing cloud and AI capabilities. The discussions also revolved around a single European battle tank, where the Leclerc and Leopard tanks would be replaced by the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a joint project started in 2017. Former interest by Italy, Spain and Poland can strengthen the development phase, however the escalation of the war in Ukraine creates a great amount of uncertainty to defense developments with an increased need of utilizing already existing defense equipment.
Similar to FCAS, the MCAS is also a “system of systems” which can be best characterized as a team of vehicles involving drones, sensors, light and heavy platforms providing immediate combat collaborative capability through man-machine interface. The complexity of these defense systems have only been hypothetically tested, nevertheless take into account the new generation of threats that Europe is facing. While Europe has lost decades under the auspices of the United States, it cannot solely rely on uncertain transatlantic partners in a rapidly decreasing security environment. No matter the outcome of the U.S. elections, Europe will need to rise to the task of creating its own defense industry 80 years after WWII. It is crucial that such projects are cross-border and cross-regional, including Central-Eastern Europe and small- and medium enterprises in order to have full ownership across the defense supply chain. Which is why to be successful, FCAS and MGCS will need to be integrated into the Permanent Structured Cooperation projects for full European ownership and credibility. Hopefully the Scholz-Attal discussions will reach a wider audience of European (EU) leaders, in light of the upcoming elections and will prove that there is real unity in diversity in the field of the EU’s defense industry.