European countries should step up efforts to jointly develop the next generation fighter jets to avoid becoming too reliant on U.S. technology, Airbus Defense and Space Chief Executive Dirk Hoke said. "To date, the countries of Europe have indulged in expensive customised national solutions or have made their means of national defense dependent on the U.S.," Hoke said in an op-ed published in Griephan Briefe, a German weekly specialised in defense issues. It is becoming increasingly unaffordable for European countries to go it alone, Hoke said, pointing to the "huge increase in technical requirements" that military aircraft now have to meet. But by choosing to buy American defense goods such as F-35 fighter jets, which are cheaper thanks to economies of scale, Europeans risked giving away control of their own defense capabilities, according to Hoke.
"Do we want to put ourselves in a position of unilateral dependence - for each and every adaptation to our mission scenarios, each maintenance procedure, each update?" he asked.
To counter the U.S. influence, Hoke urged countries like France and German to "quickly" move forward with plans for a joint European fighter jet system to replace their current fleets, as announced by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel in July. Such a partnership would save money and remove competition between different jets currently on the market. French forces are using the latest generation of the Rafale jet manufactured by French arms maker Dassault, while Germany uses the Eurofighter Typhoon and older British aircraft.
Hoke said the clock was ticking as both France and Germany would have to replace large parts of their fleet in "about 15 years' time." Other countries, such as Spain, Belgium and Italy, had also shown interest in the joint project, he claimed.
"On the assumption that the necessary political will is in place, Airbus is offering to drive cooperation with its European partners and to shape this aspect of our common European future," Hoke added. Hoke's call for action comes as his company is embroiled in legal battle with Austria over the 2003 purchase of Eurofighter Typhoon jets, co-manufactured by Airbus as part of a four-nation consortium. Austrian authorities brought fraud charges against Airbus last February, alleging they were overcharged when they placed the 2.0 billion euro order. They are claiming as much as 1.1 billion euros in damages from the European aerospace giant.