Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

Belgium becomes an additional partner in the Scaf program for the future European combat aircraft being developed by France, Germany and Spain. But negotiations between the various partners on the sharing of industrial tasks are shaping up to be complicated.

“I am pleased to be able to confirm that Belgium will soon be joining the Scaf program, initially as an observer”, announced French President Emmanuel Macron, “welcoming a major development”.

The Belgian Council of Ministers gave the go-ahead on Friday June 17 for Belgium to join this ambitious project, launched in 2017 and designed to replace the German and Spanish Eurofighters and the French Rafales from 2040.

A flagship program of Franco-German defense industry cooperation, later joined by Spain, this program testifies to Europe’s determination to stay in the race against the Americans and a rival program, the GCAP (ex-Tempest), which brings together the UK, Italy and Japan.

Launched in 2017, the French-led Future Air Combat System (Scaf) is a “system of systems”. It revolves around the aircraft with accompanying drones, all connected with the other military assets engaged in an operation.

The scale of the project – 100 billion euros, according to the experts – is such that it could only be conceived at European level, as it would be inconceivable to carry it out on a national scale.

However, the project has long struggled to make progress, stalled for many months over the division of the workload between industrialists representing the interests of different countries.

An agreement was reached on December 1 between France’s Dassault Aviation and its partner Airbus, representing the interests of Berlin and Madrid. This has enabled the launch of phase 1B of the program, aimed at developing the technologies to be carried on board a demonstrator, a kind of pre-prototype, due to fly in 2028-2029.

Phase 2, which has yet to be negotiated, provides for the actual construction of the demonstrator and its flight tests. These two phases represent a total investment of almost 8 billion euros, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces.

“Task sharing”

Belgium will retain observer status “initially, as we are in a relatively complex design and production phase” that does not lend itself to more direct participation, the Elysée said.

Belgium’s participation in the program will enable its industrialists – who were pushing to join the Scaf or the GCAP – to take part in the subsequent discussions.

Brussels is ready to inject 360 million euros into the program, 10% of which will be borne by the industrialists, reported the Belga agency.

Like Germany, Belgium opted for the American F-35 as part of NATO’s nuclear mission. But later than other European countries, which were able to obtain some industrial spin-offs from the American mega-program.

At the end of May, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said he was opposed to “rapid expansion” to include other partners.

“We do phase 1B, we get a phase 2 contract with the same people, because if we don’t, we’ll reopen the whole division of labor” between the three countries, he told senators. “I don’t see why I would give work to the Belgians today”, he added.

“The Scaf (…) will at some point have other partners. But I think we have to take things one step at a time”, said Airbus Chairman Guillaume Faury on Friday at the Paris Air Forum event.

Olivier Andriès, head of Safran, one of the companies responsible for the future aircraft’s engine, said he was open to Belgium joining the program. Especially as his company is well established in the country.

“Germany has also bought F-35s, and we’re willing to work with them. So I don’t see this as an argument to turn Belgium away. You can’t have variable logic,” he told the Belgian newspaper L’Echo.

According to a French source, Belgium’s entry as an observer was done “in good understanding” with the industrialists, as it does not change the division of tasks. For the time being.

By admin