Dassault and Airbus DS have announced plans to jointly develop and produce a Future Combat Air System (FCAS) as a globally competitive next-generation European fighter aircraft. How big a strategic step-change would that be for European defence?

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show, Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defense and Space have announced a global agreement to develop and produce a Future Combat Air System. The objective of this agreement is to federate the respective strengths of the two companies in order to secure European sovereignty, strategic autonomy and technological leadership of Europe in the military aviation sector in the long term. For sure, the joint political will expressed by France and Germany and their respective industrialists to engage in a critical development for the future of European defence represents a very important step. 


Will it include other European countries and companies and will it make use of the EDF?

The French Minister of Defence, Florence Parly, and its German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, have signed during the ILA show a High Level Concepts of Operation Document (HLCORD). This process was followed by a Letter of Intent between the two countries in June 2018. This shows there is a political will from both countries to be the pillars and the advanced echelon of this cooperation. It seems to me that when the right conditions are met, this cooperation should be extended to other countries.

In general terms, how important will unmanned air systems, such as the MALE RPAS in which Dassault is also involved, be in the future European defence toolbox?

How do you see the unmanned segment evolving in the next 5 to 20 years? In 2013, with my colleagues from Airbus and Leonardo, we alerted our respective authorities about the strategic urgency to develop our own capabilities in the field of drones. MALE RPAS was born based on this awareness. Unmanned systems are representing a key capability in today’s operational environment, at national level and in operations abroad. I am convinced that because of its operational and industrial added value for Europe, MALE RPAS is called to become a founding and valuable flagship. It is now in the hands of the countries involved to go ahead with a development contract.

Do you foresee synergies between the developments of the European MALE RPAS and of the FCAS?

MALE RPAS is a key component of the FCAS.

What is your assessment of the new EU defence initiatives (CARD, PESCO, EDF) so far?

From a defence industrial point of view: are we moving in the right direction? I am pleased about the shift that has been jointly initiated by Member States and the European Union: Defence and Security have become priorities for the future of the Union. In order to shape these priorities, the EU has developed initiatives such as CARD, PESCO or EDIDP that have emerged in recent months. Other initiatives such as EDF are still under discussion. It may still be a bit early to make an assessment or draw conclusions as these initiatives are still recent. On the substance, what is important for the industry is the awareness that a collective effort was needed to create the conditions for developing a real European Defence by the Europeans themselves. This includes an adapted budget, a lean and efficient capability process as well as an appropriate governance for the defence sector which is quite different from the civilian one. What is also important for industry is the overall coherence that links each of these initiatives in order to have sufficient and focused visibility to rapidly achieve concrete results.

Dassault Aviation is tasked to ensure the leadership for the New Generation Fighter within the FCAS

Are you happy with the proposed EDIDP rules and what is your take on the planned arrangement for participation of third country entities established in Europe?

The European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) that was adopted this summer is a first step. The industry represented in Brussels by ASD was mobilised from an early stage to make a useful contribution to it. From my point of view, there are two main things that are important.

Firstly, capability development. It is the main challenge of the programme and focuses on two key issues for Europe: strategic autonomy and competitiveness of the industry.

Secondly, the funding put in place by the EU in the framework of this programme. It adds to the existing resources of the Member States and, therefore, is a tool capable of providing a leverage effect. During the negotiations on this programme, Member States and the European Union endeavoured to align the objectives of autonomy and competitiveness with legal reality and industrial constraints.

As regards EDIDP, thanks to the efforts made by all, a consensus was finally found on a framework and measures, particularly in terms of eligibility, to guarantee that European interests are met.

Since the defence sector is specific, additional progress will have to be made on the EDF which is not yet agreed. For example, there is the question of a 100% coverage of all costs which would match the conditions of our main competitors. There is one point that is central for all European initiatives: European money must primarily go to the European industry, i.e to actors whose policy is not defined or constrained by considerations expressed outside the EU.


Member States recently approved new EU Capability Development Priorities as part of the revised CDP. What’s the European defence industry’s view on them?

Do you feel industry is ready and capable of taking them up and delivering the required capabilities? The EU, which has to deal with new strategic challenges and must meet new requirements for the protection of its citizens, needs a clear roadmap in terms of capability priorities. From this point of view, the process enabling Member States’ convergence on capability development priorities (CDP) represents an important step forward. The CDP thus already provides a useful reference framework: a global picture of Member States’ capability needs in generic priorities areas. Industry has developed very good working relations with all EU institutions. In the light of recent developments in the field of EU capabilities, industry is of course prepared, with the support of Member States, to strengthen its contribution in this domain. 

As the President of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), I am fully confident about the European industry’s capabilities: it has the means and skills required to meet the European capability challenges, including through the robust network of its main Primes and the small and medium-sized industries and enterprises which form an envied ecosystem in the world.


Europe still lacks joint defence programmes and investments. What, in your view, can and should be done to stimulate more cooperation?

Europe is making a big shift in defence. The past decade has been marked by a period of under-investment in this area. We see an evolution now because European countries are changing their policies and are actively thinking about the modernisation of their defence systems. Undoubtedly, this new situation offers new perspectives and opportunities. So, I do believe that cooperation in Europe will develop. Nevertheless, it can neither be decreed nor become a dogma, particularly in the defence field. It must be based on political will, mutual trust and shared interests. It must also increasingly meet the needs of efficiency in economic and financial terms. It is difficult to draw the profile of a successful cooperation. In the defence sector, cooperation first must ensure that the operational contract of our armed forces is fulfilled. Then, it seems to me necessary that the cooperation meets the main following criteria: – be an expression of the common operational needs avoiding as much as possible over-specification; – rely on a firm and long-term budgetary commitment by Member States; – be driven by an efficient state/industrial governance able to take decisions and make compromises; – have an export policy defined upstream of the programme; - and rely on a division of labour based on competencies and efficiency rather than considerations of geographical fair return.

Joint European defence R&T is moving ahead, supported by EU funding. Do you think a future European Defence Research Programme can make a difference and boost Europe’s defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB)?

More than ever, defence research is a strategic priority to ensure the maintenance of a strong, state of the art and respected European defence industry. As you know, this industry is a long cycle industry that devotes a significant portion of its revenues to research. Every decision that is made in this area produces a strategic effect. Secondly, the technological choices have a direct impact on the future competitiveness of industry on the international market. Europe is at a major turning point, as a cycle of major programmes is coming to an end. The future must therefore be urgently prepared in a context where the range of threats is widening and where new technological developments are emerging.

In this context, Europe also needs a coherent roadmap, fully in line with the identified capabilities needs and capable of producing convergence on the required future technologies. I therefore think that such a European research programme is likely to have beneficial effects for the whole community, provided there is a strategic steering of the Member States, the establishment of suitable conditions for defence and the identification of ways that will allow an efficient industry contribution.


What else, in your view, is missing today to develop a strong European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB)?

To ensure an adapted development of the European defence industry, it will also be important to look after the three following aspects.

Firstly, the European industrial sector has to be preserved, developed and organised in order to reduce Europe’s strategic dependency, in particular as regards the supply of critical components. Secondly, we need a more systematic benchmark of the policy and measures taken by the major strategic partners of the EU in order to ensure that a balanced level playing field is respected at international level. And thirdly, we need to build an EU political and legislative environment that is fully adapted to the defence specificities in order to speed up and to support the development of industrial cooperation in Europe. As a consequence, we need a strong EDTIB.


In your view, is there enough political and industrial leadership to make Europe become strategically autonomous in the defence industrial domain?

Considering the evolving strategic context, and in order to remain an influential player in the world, Europe must be able to shape its own future. In this perspective, strategic autonomy represents both a political objective and a condition for the survival for the European defence industry. The on-going discussions concerning FCAS illustrate these challenges. Indeed, the objective is to set up the most relevant cooperative organisation in which the companies involved will contribute with their respective ‘know-how’ and skills to produce the most efficient and competitive European FCAS. In this context, and as it was officially stated, France is the leader nation for the FCAS. As far as Dassault Aviation is concerned, my company is tasked to ensure the leadership for the New Generation Fighter within the FCAS. We, as an aircraft manufacturer, have a prominent role to play in supporting strategic activities on which Europe must be positioned on the long term, and we must remain strong to be able to face upcoming challenges.

Eric Trappier

Eric Trappier is chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation since January 2013. He also chairs the European Aerospace and Defence Industries Association (ASD), the French Aerospace Industries Association (GIFAS) as well as the Conseil des Industries de Défense Françaises (CIDEF). In April 2018, Mr Trappier signed an industrial agreement with Airbus Defence & Space to develop and produce the Future Air Combat System, in Franco-German cooperation. He also contributed to the launch, in September 2016, of the study to define the future MALE observation drone, carried out in German-French-Italian cooperation by Airbus Defence & Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo.

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