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Airbus, Dassault agree to build European fighter jet

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A Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin Reuters

European plane-maker Airbus and France's Dassault have reached agreement in principle to build a Franco-German multi-role fighter, which is being billed as a future European air combat system.


"We are ready," declared Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier at a press conference at the Berlin Air Show. "And we're saying to our defence ministries and our political leaders: 'We're ready, over to you,'."

Airbus Defence and Space boss Dirk Hoke hailed a "historic moment for the industry".

"This is a great step forward in developing skills in Europe and assuring European sovereignty," he said, using a phrase employed by French President Emmanuel Macron during his address to the European parliament last week.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in April that she and her German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, would announce a "significant first step" towards launching the programme at the salon.

Paris and Berlin first unveiled the plan for a "Future European Air Combat System" (Scaf) shortly after President Emmanuel Macron's election last May.

The warplanes should start operating in 2040.

They should be able to operate alone or command a squadron of other weapons, including drones but it has not yet been decided whether they will have an unmanned option.

Three competing systems

At present Europe is home to three competing fighter programmes - France's Rafale, the Eurofighter - used by Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain - and Sweden's Gripen.

France was originally part of the European Eurofighter consortium that includes Britain, Germany and Italy, but opted in the 1980s to develop its own independent Dassault-built Rafale fighter, partly in order to guarantee high-value work for its state-owned engine-maker, which is now part of Safran.

Germany and France also plan to sign an agreement at the air show to explore the joint development of a new maritime surveillance aircraft, with a goal of making it operational by 2035, German military sources told the Reuters news agency.

It would focus on anti-submarine warfare, surveillance and support and be opened in the longer term to other countries in the European Union, Nato and elsewhere, the sources said.

France and Germany cooperate on a number of military operations, including deployments against jihadist insurgents in Mali.