PARIS (Reuters) - France will take the lead in the development of a next generation combat jet with Germany under an agreement the two governments signed on Tuesday, the French defence ministry said.
The new combat jet is intended to replace from 2040 France's Dassault Aviation <AVMD.PA> Rafales and Germany's Eurofighters, made by a European consortium.
The Franco-German agreement calls for work on the project to begin before the end of the year, starting with a study phase, the ministry said.
In addition to being capable of acting on its own, the new aircraft is expected to be at the centre of a broader weapons system, capable of commanding a squadron of drones.
Dassault and Airbus <AIR.PA>, a Eurofighter consortium member, signed an agreement in April to work together on the new project, but avoided saying which of the two groups would be in charge.
The fact that France is now in the driving seat of the project favours Dassault to take charge since most of Airbus' defence activities are in Germany.
"Developing a future multi-role combat aircraft for France and Germany integrated in a weapons system network is a major issue for Europe's strategic autonomy," Dassault Chief Executive Eric Trappier said in a statement to Reuters.
The other members of the Eurofighter consortium are British defence group BAE Systems <BAES.L> and Italy's Leonardo <LDOF.MI>.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron first agreed to jointly develop the new aircraft shortly after his election in May 2017, burying past rivalries in favour of tighter defence cooperation.
France and Germany also agreed on Tuesday that Germany would take the lead in a joint project to develop a new battle tank with a first phase of the programme to be launched by mid-2019. The aim is for the tank to be operational in 2035.
The two countries also signed agreements for a joint future artillery system and plans to launch a Franco-German military satellite.
(Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer; writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Adrian Croft)