Feb. 24 (UPI) -- An agreement to advance construction of a joint advanced combat aircraft program was ceremonially signed by French and German defense ministers.
A contract for the first phase of the program to build the main aircraft of the Future Combat Air System was awarded last week. It covers the plane's propulsion system, data architecture and simulation environment, the German Defense Ministry said. Airbus, MTU, Safran and Dassault are the lead contractors.
Plans for the program include development of a Next-Generation Weapon System whose components include remote carrier vehicles known as "swarming drones" and a sixth-generation fighter plane intended to be ready by 2035 to replace current Rafales, Eurofighters and F-18 Hornet planes. The plane and drones are expected to work in tandem.
Two additional areas of work, involving the plane's sensors and stealth capabilities, remain under discussion. The cost of the first phase of the program, which is expected to take 18 months, will cost about $166 million and will be equally shared by Germany and France.
Florence Parly, the French defense minister, and her German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ceremonially signed the agreement in Paris on Thursday.
While Spain joined the program after it was announced in 2019, and Angelo Olivares, Spain's deputy defense minister, was present at the signing, it is currently a two-nation project. Spain's contributory share remains a topic of negotiation, but it is expected to join and help pay for the project later this year.
A flying demonstrator version of the fighter plane is expected by 2026. A mockup of the plane, a shell with no internal components, was unveiled in June 2019 at the Paris Air Show.