PARIS (Reuters) - France expects to take a “first significant step” in the development of a new European fighter jet with Germany later this month, Defence Minister Florence Parly said in remarks published on Thursday.
Paris and Berlin first unveiled plans to develop the new warplane in July, two months after President Emmanuel Macron’s election win, burying past industrial rivalries to tighten defence and security.
The project accelerates steps to shape the future of the European fighter industry and its three existing programmes - the Eurofighter, France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Gripen.
Parly said that ongoing “active talks” should result in an announcement at the ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25-29.
“On a political level, discussions between the French and German teams are intense. The industrial groups are working well together and now we have to ensure the two processes come together,” Parly told La Tribune newspaper.
A French defence ministry source, speaking before Parly met her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen, said the two sides would sign a high level common operational requirements document in Berlin, a 10-page document that outlines the basic needs of the two militaries.
After that the companies involved - Dassault, MBDA, Thales and Safran on the French side and Airbus on the German side - would spend just under a year working separately on technical specifications before agreeing a common contract to work together.
“This proves wrong the people that said France and Germany couldn’t work together on defence projects,” the source said.
It was too early to talk about including other EU partners in the project, she said.
The source said France and Germany wanted to push the project forward quickly before bringing others on board.
The new fighter jet aims to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter, rival jets that compete fiercely for global sales.
“We are looking at first delivery by 2040 to replace the Eurofighter and to prepare for a future beyond the Rafale,” the source said.
“The industrial studies will start this year autonomously so that we can try to start to work together next year with a view to launching the programme in the 2020s.”
It 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.
The Eurofighter is made by Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo (LDOF.MI) and Britain’s BAE Systems. While the Gripen is manufactured by Saab.
Germany’s defence ministry did not immediately respond for comment.
Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer, John Irish and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alison Williams and Alexandra Hudson