Shaping the future of the French defense industry: the view of the president of GIFAS

By Pierre Tran

Paris – Difficult to find an industrial agreement to build a technological demonstrator for a future European fighter plane, declared on April 28 Guillaume Faury, president of the professional aerospace union Gifas.

Phase 1B of the Future Combat Air System has been “difficult”, he told a press conference by the Groupement des Industries Françaises Aéronautiques et Spatiales, which took stock of 2021 for the French aerospace industry.

Faury is also CEO of Airbus, the European airliner manufacturer.

The contract for this critical phase 1B has not yet been signed, delaying the construction of a demonstrator for a new generation fighter, a key element of the SCAF project supported by France, Germany and Spain.

This delay stems from the fact that prime contractor Dassault Aviation insists on clear leadership in the management of the fighter project, while industrial partner Airbus Defense and Space seeks a high level of cooperation, effectively equal status.

The fighter demonstrator is due to fly in 2027, but there appears to be little progress in addressing a deep divide, reflecting the distinct management cultures of family-controlled Dassault and Airbus, which prides itself on being a European company working in close partnership rather than a subcontractor.

When asked if there was room for Britain’s Tempest fighter project to join FCAS, to avoid two rival European fighter jets, Faury said there would be three fighters with the F-35, which is a “great success” in Europe.

FCAS is still a project exploring technology, not yet a program, he said, and there are already three partner countries. It is indeed too early to tell.

“We have to win on FCAS,” he said, because it will give critical mass to Europe, which seeks sovereignty through defense and security cooperation. The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted the importance of this European search for capacity.

There were German elections last year, and this year France went to the polls, which may have had an effect on the FCAS calendar.

A French election on April 24 returned Emmanuel Macron to a second five-year term as president with 58.54% of the vote, beating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who won 41.46%.

There will be legislative elections in June, with pollster Harris Interactive predicting that Macron will win the support of a center-right majority in the lower house of the National Assembly.

The war in Ukraine as a stimulus

The Ukraine crisis underscores the importance of pursuing sovereignty and European cooperation must be accelerated, Faury said. The European Council, the political institution of the European Union, supports the dynamics of European cooperation in defense matters, and Berlin supports this European quest.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin would buy the F-35, and also said Germany would pursue FCAS with France, he said.

Individual nations cannot afford to pursue their own hunting programs, he said, stressing the need for the “European dimension” and the importance of FCAS.

It is worrying that Germany is planning to spend heavily on non-European weapons, he said, and the long-term prospects for European industry should be taken into account. Faury was answering a question about Berlin’s plans to buy the F-35, the Israeli Arrow 3 missile and the US Chinook heavy-lift helicopter.

On European cooperation, there is the contract for the “Euro drone” a few months ago, he said, referring to the 7.1 billion euro agreement for a European unmanned aerial vehicle in medium altitude and long endurance, with Airbus DS as prime contractor.

Airbus DS selected Avio’s Catalyst engine, sparking dissent as the Italian company is a unit of US-based General Electric, while a competing bid led by French-based Safran Helicopter Engines was rejected .

Safran HE had teamed up with its Italian partner Piaggio Aerospace, the German companies MT-Propeller and ZF Luftfahrttechnik, and the Spanish manufacturer ITP.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain have supported the European drone with the aim of reducing dependence on Israel and the United States for drones, which are considered an important system.

There was an op-ed on the corporate website La Tribune and on a social media platform calling on France to drop Germany as a partner country because Berlin has gone its own way in ordering arms.

The new fighter is the key pillar of the seven technological pillars that underpin the FCAS project, the partner companies have committed to work on these six other sectors. The other six pillars are engine, remote carriers – or drones, combat cloud for network communications, simulation labs, sensors and stealth.

Each of the partner companies negotiated their role in these pillars, such as Airbus, Thales and Indra, reaching an agreement on their work sharing on the combat cloud, a network intended to connect new and old fighters, remote carriers and allied planes. It remains for Dassault and Airbus DS to agree on phase 1B of the demonstrator of a new fighter.

FCAS Phase 1B would have a budget of €3.6 billion ($3.8 billion) and runs from 2021 to 2024, while Phase 2 runs from 2024 to 2027, with a budget of 5 billion euros, supported by the three partner countries.

The war in Ukraine has prompted a rethink of the corporate social responsibility of arms makers, said Faury, who have struggled to raise funds due to concerns about CSR.

“Ukraine has changed the cards,” he said, with sovereignty seen as the key to resilience.

signs of recovery

GIFAS reported revenue of 55 billion euros in 2021, up 7.2% from a year ago, with exports accounting for 37.3 billion euros, Faury said. Civil aircraft accounted for 65% of sales.

Military aircraft recorded a strong increase in sales, worth 19.5 billion euros, up 18% compared to the previous year. Export military sales increased by 24% to €10.3 billion, while domestic military sales increased by 13% to €9.2 billion.

Military orders jumped 140% to 27.6 billion euros, with exports worth 11.7 billion euros, up 258%. Domestic orders reached €15.9 billion, up 92%.

The “major success” of military orders stems from deals for the Rafale fighter jet for Croatia, Egypt, Greece and the United Arab Emirates.

In helicopters, France ordered the HIL Guépard light joint helicopter, and the UAE ordered the H225M Caracal.

Indonesia and Kazakhstan have ordered the A400M military transport, while Spain and the United Arab Emirates have ordered an A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft.

In 2022, Indonesia and Greece ordered Rafales, while last year Saudi Arabia ordered civilian helicopters.

Last year, overall orders rose 68% to 50.1 billion euros, with military orders accounting for 55%, a highly unusual proportion as civilian orders typically outweigh the defense sector.

The orders-to-bills ratio of overall sales to orders was close to 1:1, he said.

Return from the Paris Air Show

“We will come back,” said Patrick Daher, president of SIAE, the organization that manages the Paris Air Show, during the press conference. Daher was referring to the promise made by General Douglas MacArthur when American forces withdrew from the Philippines during World War II.

The Paris air show will reopen in 2023, after being forced to cancel last year’s exhibition due to the Covid pandemic. Next year’s air show will mark the “beginning of recovery”, Daher said, pointing to a festive spirit planned for the weekend when the high-profile exhibit opens to the public.

The show organizer expects to attract 177,000 public visitors, the same level as the 2019 show.

The air show is an important means of attracting and training a skilled workforce for the aerospace industry. Gifas is looking to recruit 15,000 workers this year, but is struggling to recruit women. The association has launched a brand, Aéro Recrute, to boost hiring.

The air show organizer is also looking to boost business for start-ups, and there will be an exhibition space named Start Air.

Dassault and Airbus DS held a joint press conference during the 2019 air show, with Executive Chairman Eric Trappier and then-Chief Executive Dirk Hoke respectively standing next to a full-size model of the new fighter. generation.

The presentation of this model, with the signing by the French, German and Spanish defense ministers of a cooperation agreement, was the media highlight of European military aeronautics.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a joint press conference at the Paris Air Show 2023, with a similar optimistic note.

The Paris Air Show will take place from June 19 to 23.

Photo credit: GIFAS: Guillaume Faury, President of GIFAS, presented on Thursday April 28, 2022, the 2021 results of the French aeronautics, space and Defense industry.

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