Future Anti-Ship Missile Systems: Joint inquiry with the Assemblée nationale's Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces Contents
The United Kingdom and France have had a long and successful history of defence cooperation. In 2010, this partnership reached a new level with the signing of the Lancaster House agreements. These agreements strengthened cooperation between our two countries in both capabilities and operations, helping to consolidate a defence relationship which, by its breadth and depth, has few equivalents anywhere.
On 7 February 2018, in the margins of the regular quadrilateral meetings of the Defence Committees of both chambers of both Parliaments, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, and the President of the Assemblée nationale’s Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces, M. Jean-Jacques Bridey, agreed to launch a joint inquiry of the two Committees. Both Committees agreed that this unprecedented initiative would examine a key pillar of UK-France defence cooperation: the future cruise/anti-ship weapon (FC/ASW) missile programme.
The FC/ASW programme is intended to build upon bilateral cooperation in the missile sector that has steadily developed since the 1990s when the SCALP/Storm Shadow programme was launched. This cooperation resulted in the integration of our missile industries into a unique and globally-sized industrial player: MBDA. The Lancaster House agreements, which led to the ‘One MBDA’ initiative, further rationalised this consolidation by instituting a relationship of interdependence between France and the United Kingdom, leading to the establishment of centres of excellence in both countries.
- The joint management of the FC/ASW programme is based, above all, on the recognition of a strategic and operational convergence between France and the United Kingdom. As both countries share similar analyses of the threats that they face, the operational requirements for both countries’ armed services is naturally comparable.
- Consequently, the FC/ASW aims to provide a heavy anti-ship capability—to deal with the possibility of a confrontation on the high seas—and a deep strike ability that can penetrate and neutralise air defences and hit long-distance targets.
- In order to ensure a high level of performance of future missiles, many improvements in scope, speed, stealth, manoeuvrability and connectivity are currently under consideration, as part of a concept phase led by MBDA. This concept phase, running from 2017 to 2020, followed a preliminary study, undertaken by both Governments in partnership with MBDA, and precedes the design, development and production phase which is expected to start in 2020.
The successful conclusion of this programme will nonetheless require some unresolved issues to be answered.
- The main issue is the question of how the United Kingdom will deal with the ‘capability gap’ for heavy anti-ship weapons as a result of the withdrawal from service of the Harpoon missile 2023.
- In addition, there has been a divergence between the UK and France when it comes to prioritising stealth or prioritising hypervelocity. To date, the UK’s choices have focused more on stealth, while France has favoured velocity. The ability to agree on a vector, or even a family of vectors, is therefore another key issue that needs to be satisfactorily resolved for FC/ASW to succeed.
Despite these questions, we believe that both Governments have every interest in working together to find a solution ensuring successful implementation of a programme that has significant and mutual benefits for both our two countries.
- At an operational level, the implementation of the FC/ASW programme will help to ensure that our freedom of action is maintained, the importance of which was demonstrated during Operation Hamilton in Syria in April 2018. We believe that this operational sovereignty should be accompanied by the FC/ASW being fully interoperable with the systems available to our allies, in order to facilitate, where necessary, the conduct of joint operations.
- Politically, the FC/ASW programme will considerably strengthen defence cooperation between France and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the programme could be opened to other European countries, thus strengthening our collective defence.
- Industrially, this programme will maintain and develop the skills necessary for the continued success of our respective missile industries, as well as our wider defence industrial bases. It is worth remembering that the design and development of such complex weapons involves specialised skills bases that can take a long time to develop yet can be lost quickly.
- Furthermore, from an economic and budgetary point of view, the sharing of the development and production costs of the future missile, as well as the export opportunities, will alleviate the financial burden of such an ambitious programme.
- Finally, as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, the FC/ASW programme offers an opportunity to demonstrate the growing strength of our bilateral defence cooperation.
There is therefore every reason to be optimistic about the ability of both countries to carry out this programme, and thus to continue building an ever more robust relationship between France and the United Kingdom.