Belgium Welcomed As Observer To French, German, Spanish FCAS

Credit: Julien De Rosa/AFP/Getty Images

LE BOURGET—Belgium has been admitted as an observer partner into the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project of France, Germany, and Spain.

Defense ministers of the three partner nations welcomed Belgium’s entry into joint research and development programs during a meeting on the sidelines of the first day of the Paris Air Show here on June 19.

Belgium will not be a partner in the contracted industrial phases which started work in March. The Belgian government will instead guide its national aerospace industry to work on innovation, research and technologies that could support future FCAS program phases.

The decision to request observer status in the program was the outcome of a national defense, industry and research strategy document produced by the country’s Royal Higher Institute for Defense. It concluded that participating in a program to develop a next-generation air combat capability offered opportunities to develop both the Belgian defense industrial base and the country’s aerospace sector.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the decision to observe the FCAS program was in line with the country’s new industrial policies and would generate “great prospects” for economic spinoffs.

“As a country with an excellent aerospace and defense industry, we absolutely could not miss this opportunity,” Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said.

She said the program would deliver technological innovation that would have military and civilian applications for Belgian industry.

“This European project is fully in line with the strategy of Belgium and Europe to work for stronger strategic autonomy with a view to a more secure Europe,” Dedonder added.

The decision comes despite some concerns expressed by industry leaders involved in the FCAS program. In a parliamentary hearing in May, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier was asked about a potential enlargement of the current FCAS program and responded, “I don’t’ see why I would give work to Belgium today.”

But others have previously welcomed the potential of more partners for future phases, with Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury noting that the U.S.-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter had eight partner nations.

Belgium’s approval to observe the FCAS program comes after the country’s purchase of the F-35, the first of which is already in final assembly in Fort Worth.

The European FCAS program aims to develop a system of systems around a new generation of crewed combat aircraft that will be supported by uncrewed remote carriers and an advanced combat cloud network that will link the future fighter with legacy platforms, uncrewed systems and collaborative weapons.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.