Troubled Twins: The FCAS and MGCS Weapon Systems and Franco-German Co-operation Études de l’Ifri, December 2023
The FCAS (Future Combat Air System) and the MGCS (Main Ground Combat System) represent the latest chapter in a more than seven decades-long history of Franco-German defense co-operation.
The success or failure of these politically driven twinned weapon programs, undertaken jointly with other European partners, carries special significance. FCAS and MGCS are meant to incarnate Franco-German co-operation, supposed to be at the heart of the European project. And the development of sophisticated military equipment by European actors on European soil is presented as contributing to European Union (EU) strategic autonomy and industrial sovereignty.
Since their official start in 2017, both programs have been plagued by infighting over workshare and product specifications, provoking repeated delays, which could only be resolved by interventions at the highest political level. Two contrasting realities thus seem to co-exist, creating cognitive dissonance: a political one, which insists on the promise of Franco-German co-operation, and an industrial one, in which key firms vocally criticize ongoing co-operation efforts.
Co-operation between sovereign states, no matter how strategically aligned they might be, tends to be a difficult undertaking. Despite numerous factors, some new, some old, weighing on the MGCS and the FCAS, and on the bilateral relationship in general, it would be hasty to read those very real difficulties as signs of an imminent Franco-German demise. Just as there is a “cost of non-Europe”, there is a “cost of non-Franco-German”, as both protagonists and EU member countries in general are reminded of in our times of multiple crises.
Four scenarios, “Battling on”, “Mission abort”, “Rescue operations” and “Let’s agree to disagree” will sketch possible futures of the two twinned Franco-German armament programs, and Franco-German defense co-operation in general.
Johanna Möhring specializes in European security and defense. She holds a PhD in political science and is Chercheure associée at Thucydide Center, Paris-Panthéon-Assas, and Associate Fellow at the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS) at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn.