Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Britain, France to Sign Defense Treaties at Summit

A 10-year strategic plan for complex weapon development and a new unmanned air vehicle joint venture are among the industrial highlights of two defense treaties announced by Britain and France at a summit meeting here Nov. 2 between U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A second treaty covers cooperation in the testing of nuclear warheads for safety and reliability at facilities in the U.K. and France.

The two sides have been partners on several projects in the past, but the new deal potentially brings industrial and nuclear cooperation to an unprecedented level.

Cameron said the agreement was "big, bold and radical … and shows a level of trust never equaled in our history."

The British prime minister said the agreement was "practical and hard-headed cooperation between two sovereign countries."

Drawn together by reductions in defense spending and ailing government finances, London and Paris have opted to cooperate where possible to offset the loss of military and industrial capabilities. As the BBC's political correspondent termed it, it is not so much entente cordiale but an entente frugal forged in tough economic times.

British officials said Nov. 1 that France's decision to fully rejoin NATO had helped open the door to the new push for military and industrial cooperation.

On the industrial front, the declaration issued by the two sides held out the prospect of mutual access to each other's defense markets as well as a raft of industrial and technological co-operations.

Included in the list of joint industrial initiatives:

■ A new medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle. A jointly funded competitive assessment phase will be launched in 2011 with a view to deliver new systems to the military between 2015 and 2020. In a statement released Nov. 2, BAE Systems welcomed the deepening cooperation with France, and said it was already in discussions with Dassault Aviation over a possible tie-up on the MALE UAV program.

■ Jointly assess the requirements and option for an unmanned combat air system from 2030. The summit declaration said a technological and industrial road map will be developed over the next two years that could lead in 2012 to the launch of a joint technology and operational demonstration program between 2013 and 2018.

■ A 10-year strategic plan for the complex weapon sector aimed at efficiency savings of up to 30 percent. The scheme will permit increasing interdependence and consolidation of the industrial base.

■ In 2011 the two sides said they will launch a series of projects including the development of an anti-surface missile known in Britain as FASGW(H) and in France as ANL, and assess enhancements to the Storm Shadow/Scalp cruise missile. Both projects are led by MBDA.

■ There will also be a technology road map for short-range air defense technologies. The cooperation could serve as a template for initiatives in other industrial sectors, the two sides said.

■ Jointly develop equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines. A joint study will be launched next year. Cooperation will help sustain and rationalize the industrial base and generate greater efficiencies.

■ A common spares support plan for Airbus-built A400M airlifters, which could open the way for further cooperation in maintenance, logistics and training for deployed and home-based operations. A deal is in the final stages of negotiation with Airbus Military.

■ Explore opportunities for synthetic and live training of A400M crews as well as set up a joint bilateral user group to develop training techniques and procedures.

■ Satellite communications will be subject to a joint concept study in 2011 on potential cooperation for a new generation of satellites to enter service between 2018 and 2022.

■ A joint project team will be set up in 2011 to agree on specifications for a prototype naval mine countermeasures system.

■ The two sides also said they were investigating the potential use of spare capacity available in Britain's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft program, providing it is financially acceptable to both nations.

An EADS-led consortium has a long-term private finance initiative deal to supply a tanker and transport service to the Royal Air Force using a fleet of up to 14 Airbus A330s. With recent cuts to the RAF fast jet fleet, the British are reckoned now to need no more than nine aircraft and have been talking to the French about using the spare capacity to fill a coming gap in their capabilities.

French MoD sources said recently the deal being offered by the British was too expensive.

ADS, the British defense and security trade association, said the agreement "could prove crucial to both retaining and developing future capabilities within Europe by sustained investment in research and technology".

The alternative, said ADS, was buying off the shelf from the U.S., which often was not the appropriate solution for British troops.

A scheme where the two sides each commit a 50 million euro ($69.7 million) annual budget to research and technology cooperation will be continued and increased when possible.

The joint work currently undertaken will be expanded to include sectors such as sensors, electronic warfare technologies, materials and simulation, the declaration said.

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