ReutersPARIS (Reuters) — France and Germany unveiled plans on Thursday to develop a European fighter jet, burying past rivalries as part of a raft of measures to tighten defense and security cooperation.
The move to develop a new warplane accelerates steps that are expected to shape the future of the European fighter industry and its three existing programs — the Eurofighter, France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Gripen.
The move also reflects efforts to give fresh impetus to Franco-German relations in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and was described by defense experts as a snub to Europe’s leading military power.
France and Germany aim to come up with a roadmap by mid 2018 for jointly leading development of the new aircraft to replace their existing fleets of rival warplanes, according to a document issued after a Franco-German cabinet meeting in Paris.
“Today there are too many European standards and qualifications and sometimes there is competition among Europeans internationally,” French President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference, flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I can confirm this is a deep revolution but we are not afraid when they are carried out peacefully, in a structured way and over time,” Macron said.
France and Germany said their new combat system, which analysts say could involve a mixture of manned and unmanned aircraft, would replace the Rafale and Eurofighter, rival jets that compete fiercely for global sales.
That would mark the end of a decades-long split since France withdrew from the Eurofighter project in the 1980s to produce its Rafale warplane with Dassault Aviation.
Defense industry experts called the move a setback to Britain and its leading arms contractor, BAE Systems.
“It is a sign to the British. It means ‘you are leaving the EU and we are driving forward. We are no longer interested in you blocking the EU on defense’,” a senior German defense industry official told Reuters.
The joint declaration did not say what role, if any, Britain would play in the Franco-German-led development. The country is Europe’s biggest defense spender and a partner in the Eurofighter project alongside Germany, Spain and Italy.
France and the United Kingdom — both permanent U.N. Security Council members with close defense and security ties — agreed to cooperate on nuclear and missiles technology in 2010, but some French officials have expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on defense.