Future Anti-Ship Missile Systems: Joint inquiry with the Assemblée nationale's Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces Contents

4Ultimately a flagship programme in the interests of both countries

128.As the representatives of the British and French authorities remarked during the joint hearings in London and Paris, France and the United Kingdom are the two main military powers in Europe. This situation has led both countries to build a strong bilateral relationship, which has intensified steadily over recent years.79

129.In London, the then Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb MP, emphasised the significant deepening of the bilateral relationship. He referred to the conduct of joint operations, whether escort arrangements to protect the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle or the British command and assault ship Albion or, more recently, strikes carried out in Syria with American forces and the deployment of British CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the Sahel with the Barkhane force. He also welcomed our cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, listing in particular: “the joint development of certain research capacities, like the Teutates programme”.80

130.In Paris, Admiral Christophe Prazuck, Chief of Navy Staff, also referred to the importance of the escorts provided by one country for a surface vessel belonging to the other’s fleet and recalled that last spring both countries conducted a joint amphibious exercise, Catamaran, as part of the formation of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF).81 Some of the areas of cooperation listed by Mr Joël Barre, General Delegate for Armaments, included: “the area of mine warfare”, in which a demonstrator project has been initiated, as well as “the field of combat aviation technologies, in accordance with the refocusing agreed together at the Sandhurst summit last January”. Lastly, he re-emphasised that: “the ANL programme is also under way”.82

131.Franco-British cooperation in the field of defence therefore goes beyond the FC/ASW programme, but this programme is now widely recognised to form a cornerstone of such cooperation.

132.This is because the importance of the FC/ASW programme lies not just in the design and construction of a new weapons system, offering our forces new capabilities in terms of anti-ship strikes, the suppression of enemy air defences and deep strikes, but also in the potential benefits in terms of sovereign capability, our respective industrial bases and the value for money gains that could accrue from acting together.

Preserving national sovereignty and freedom of action

133.The experience of the SCALP/Storm Shadow deep strike programme shows the advantages of cooperation that maintains strategic autonomy. Despite this being a joint programme, both the UK and France have been free to deploy these missiles when acting independently of one another. As a result, the United Kingdom was able, independently, to freely fire Storm Shadow missiles in Iraq in 2003, and France was able to do the same with SCALPs in Libya in 2011. More broadly, the preservation of national sovereignty guarantees freedom of action, e.g. the capacity to intervene whenever national interests are threatened, without having to give guarantees or to require any authorisation from a third-party state.

134.Guaranteeing this independence is at the heart of the Lancaster House Agreement, the first paragraph of Article 9 indicating that: “the two Parties agree to develop and maintain key industrial capacities and defence technologies in order to improve their independence in the field of key defence technologies and increase the security of their supply and to develop the operational capacities of their armed forces”.

135.By entrusting MBDA with the completion of the concept phase of the FC/ASW programme, the British and French authorities have therefore chosen to ensure that they have full control over this weapon, not only in operational terms, but equally from a technological and industrial viewpoint. Jointly developed, this future missile would ensure the preservation of their national sovereignty, from start to finish.

Deepening bilateral relations in the field of defence

From a political standpoint

136.Since 23 June 2016, both Governments have repeatedly highlighted the continuing importance of the Franco-British defence relationship, regardless of the UK’s withdrawal of the European Union. The last bilateral summit also emphasized “the unique and close relationship between our countries, two of the oldest and greatest democracies in the world”.83 More recently, at the Franco-British Defence Council on 20 September 2018, Mrs Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, reiterated that the partnership [between France and the UK] is as crucial as ever, regardless of Brexit”. On the same day, the Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces, Sir Nicholas Carter, recalled that “the London-Paris connection is vital for Defence”.

137.As discussed earlier, the bilateral relationship goes well beyond the FC/ASW programme. This has intensified significantly since the signing of the Lancaster House agreement, Sir Mark Poffley also noting “a significant change in our relationship over the past five years. It has become one of the strongest in terms of both threat analysis and the ability to translate this into military capabilities”. According to him, both the French Army Staff and the Directorate-General for Armaments have moved very close to the British Ministry of Defence, this movement resulting in an increase in the exchange of information.

138.From this point of view, the FC/ASW programme is an opportunity to intensify this relationship, as its success requires the exchange of highly sensitive information. For example, the integration of the future missile into the F35 will probably require the use of information to which the French authorities do not have access. Other highly sensitive information could be difficult to share, such as countermeasures or threat assessment datasets. In order to facilitate this, the authorities of both countries have begun discussions to determine the conditions for exchange of information, while France, under the auspices of the General Secretariat for Defence and National Security (SGDSN), has undertaken a reform of its classification system in order to bring it more into line with the practices of other European countries, and in particular the United Kingdom.

From the operational standpoint

139.If successful, the FC/ASW programme would be an important pillar of both countries’ freedom of military action.

140.It would also serve as a key platform enabling interoperability between our two countries. Certainly, the interoperability of these future missiles constitutes both a challenge and an opportunity to step up the integration of our forces with those of our allies. Today, the British and French forces are already largely interoperable. This is due mainly to our common membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which provides a means of standardising military equipment. In the future, it is important that this interoperability be maintained, in order, to enable both countries to develop and maintain their own standards and products.

141.Interoperability is all the more essential as it facilitates the conduct of coalition operations. Indeed, while the ability quickly to design operational readiness is essential to the success of an intervention, building sophisticated weapons systems together simplifies their coordinated employment. When the British, Americans and French struck in Syria a few months ago, the operation was facilitated by interoperability between their forces.

142.Finally, successfully achieving a cooperative programme makes it possible to increase the stock of missiles ordered by both countries, through a reduction in unit costs.

Contributing to the defence of Europe

143.Although negotiations are still ongoing to determine the basis of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the joint communiqué issued at the end of the Sandhurst Summit stated that “while this Summit takes place as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, the United Kingdom is not leaving Europe.” Indeed, Guto Bebb MP told the joint inquiry that there was “no doubt that we want to be involved in European initiatives and projects, even after Brexit”.

144.In this context, cooperation on arms systems is an essential component in achieving European cooperation on defence. On the French side, the military programming law [LPM] for 2019–2025 clearly calls for this European slant: “the equipment programmes launched during the 2019–2025 LPM will be primarily designed in a European cooperation path”. The FC/ASW is identified as one of the key projects to be carried out in the coming years. On the British side, the Chief of the Defence Staff stated in the press on 20 September 2018 that “what provides a decisive advantage is the long-term building of mutual trust and respect-based relationships, born of joint training, joint testing of doctrine and tactics, and the joint development of military capability”.84

145.Therefore, the joint design, development and, ultimately, use of such a strategic weapon can only enhance both countries’ participation in the defence of Europe.

Buttressing the two countries’ defence industrial base

146.The strengthening and sustainability of the two countries’ industrial and technological base lies at the heart of the FC/ASW programme.

147.As explained above, the Lancaster House agreement instituted mutual dependence. This has resulted in the establishment of shared Franco-British centres of excellence, which should make it possible to optimise resources and reduce duplication in a number of technological areas between the French and British subsidiaries, thereby generating economies of scale to the benefit of MBDA’s competitiveness.

148.The challenge now lies in consolidating a binational missile industry, based on a sovereign, sustainable and competitive prime contractor and equipment manufacturers, capable of developing the most modern missiles in the long term. The FC/ASW programme will require the most advanced skills. Today, through MBDA, its centres of excellence shared between the two nations and its subcontractors, the Franco-British industry has the skills necessary to be able to achieve this development in accordance with the planned timetable.

149.The design and development of new-generation missiles requires specific skills, in some cases held by a very small number of people. As industry players often point out, these skills take a long time to gain, but only a short time to lose. As mentioned in Chapter Three, a failure to proceed with the programme would thus pose significant challenges to MBDA’s industrial and skills base. In Paris, Chris Allam spoke of the potential implications for MBDA if the FC/ASW were not to proceed:

… we would put at risk the skill we have developed in European missile design. This is one of the core programmes. It is not the only one—MBDA has a number of programmes—but it is absolutely at the core. In the same way that Storm Shadow and SCALP were at the core of MBDA to start, this is at the core of MBDA as we go forward.85

150.However, should the development phase proceed successfully after 2020, another important consideration will be the industrial sharing between both countries and between the different industrial players in the sector.

151.As discussed in Chapter Three, the characteristics of the concept ultimately adopted will play a key role in determining how the workload of the FC/ASW programme should be distributed: British industrialists have real expertise in the field of stealth, while French players have greater experience when it comes to hyper-velocity.

152.In this regard, it should be reiterated that the choice of a missile family could resolve a number of issues. For instance, if the decision were made to favour increasing the length of the extension over the ability to conduct deep strike, which implies losing speed, a subsonic stealth solution could be considered for the future airborne cruise missile. In contrast, a supersonic solution could be preferred for the ability to strike against ships and remove air defences. As a result, the British and French players would each be mobilised on a “propulsion” sub-set, thereby enabling sharing on the other segment: the “navigation-guidance” sub-set.

153.In this regard, while MBDA UK has definite expertise, as evidenced by its designing the homing system for Common Anti-air Modular Missile [CAMM] ground-to-air missiles, Thales Group holds a leading position on homing systems, whether a passive homing system such as the one that equips the MICA air-to-air and surface-to-air missile deployed on Rafale and Mirage 2000 aircraft, or products using an active antenna, like the 4A that will equip the MICA NG (new generation) missile. Here too, it will be necessary to ensure that the entire industrial chain is involved, in order to preserve skills and, in so doing, industrial autonomy and sovereign capabilities.

Reducing costs, stepping up our influence

Burden sharing

154.Financial burden-sharing is closely intertwined with the MBDA’s organisational principles, as defined by the Lancaster House agreement. The creation of centres of excellence should make it possible to achieve significant economies of scale.

155.Furthermore, the joint financing of the programme should ensure that cost of further development would also be shared between the two countries, a factor that is significant in the current public finance context.

156.In theory, a programme run in cooperation should incur lower unit costs, thus enabling an increase in the number of orders. The benefits of this “serial effect” would be even greater if the program were extended to other countries.

157.For the time being, while such an assumption is not guaranteed, Joël Barre indicated at his hearing in Paris that “other countries may decide to become involved”.86 Antoine Bouvier believed that, for MBDA,“this programme of deep and anti-ship strikes is an excellent example [of a programme that could attract wider international participation] because we are starting from a Franco-British scope but the objective further down the line, when we reach the right level of maturity, is to extend that programme to other European countries that have cruise missiles [Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain]”.87 It could well be that the FC/ASW is ultimately destined, for its deep strike capacity, to replace the SCALP EG operated by Italian forces, and the TAURUS KEPD 350 missile operated by the German, Swedish and Spanish forces.

158.In any case, the programme’s economic balance will also depend on its success on the export market. Moreover, in the case of the EG/Storm Shadow SCALP, it was indeed export that made it possible to increase the serial effect and to return, “in terms of series produced, American orders of magnitude instead of the usual 10 per cent”.88


159.Designing a product intended solely for the Franco-British market could prove to be a mistake in several respects:

160.Export potential is therefore a key factor in reducing costs, ensuring the programme’s economic balance and contributing to both countries’ influence. Moreover, in London, Guto Bebb emphasised that, in his view, “export was an important issue”, reiterating in passing that one of the reasons behind MBDA’s success was its export capacity.89 In that regard it is worth remembering that the SCALP/Storm Shadow was also “designed for export”.90 Of course, it will be important to remain watchful regarding the identity of the acquiring countries, as implied when, during his hearing in Paris, Joël Barre stressed there could be no efficient cooperation between France and the United Kingdom on any given weapons system “unless we agree on common rules for exportability”.91

161.The capacity to export the FC/ASW is all the more essential as the missile would be marketed at the same time as a platform, the export of which was deemed to be “crucial” by Mr Bebb. It is difficult to offer an aircraft or vessel for sale without a weapon system, as the export of air and naval platforms requires proficiency in the weapons with which they are equipped. The exportability of future missiles is thus essential toward exporting the platforms which they will equip. In this context, the capability of future missiles will also be a powerful consideration when France and the United Kingdom respond to foreign tenders. Addressing the Parliamentarians, Antoine Bouvier stated in Paris that: “Performance is really about the performance of the whole weapons system and the platform—it is the two together that can really deliver a satisfactory performance”.92

162.Generally speaking, there are two broad groups of countries to which export should be possible. First, the circle of European countries which, in the absence of an extension of the programme, could naturally be interested in acquiring FC/ASW. Secondly, other countries are likely to be attracted by the very high-performance equipment offered, such as happened in the case METEOR.

163.In order to come to an agreement on the rules for missile export, the SGDSN and the British Ministry of Defence regularly exchange views within the One-MBDA Governance Committee. This process has made it possible to harmonise “white lists”, identifying product-recipient relationships for which export does not in principle pose any problem, in principle, for the two States. With regard to FC/ASW, it is too early to say whether the question of its exportability will be addressed within the context of these white lists connected with the One-MBDA initiative, or whether it will be covered by a distinct Franco-British agreement.93 In any event, this question will need to be clarified prior to any decision on FC/ASW, and the final decision to export will always be made on a case-by-case basis.

164.The FC/ASW will still need to be able to go head-to-head with MBDA’s main competitors. In Europe, the Norwegian group Konsberg, in partnership with Raytheon, is a serious competitor thanks to its Naval Strike Missile and Joint Strike Missile products. Nevertheless, within the Western bloc, the American players are the most prominent competitors.

165.It will therefore be essential to anticipate the effects of certain regulations that could limit our ability to export such products, and in particular the USA’s international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR).94 These regulations control the import and export of defence-related items and services as listed on the United States Munitions List (USML). These regulations cover not only complete platforms, but also individual components, with significant implications for third parties.

166.In this area, both countries might benefit from the experience of the SCALP/Storm Shadow programme. The study by the French think-tank Foundation for Strategic Research, referenced in paragraphs 158 and 159, stressed that “the preference for autonomy and the desire to export the missile meant that European solutions were preferred to avoid ITAR constraints”.95 Nonetheless, it did not prevent, a few months ago, the US Government from using the ITAR regulations to block the export of SCALP missiles from France to Egypt as a result of SCALP missiles containing US-manufactured components.96 Anticipating the effects of the ITAR regulations and, more broadly, any potential hindrance to the export of these materials will be essential for the FC/ASW programme. We recommend that, as part of the concept phase, both countries and MBDA explore the potential impact of the ITAR regulations on the FC/ASW programme and in doing so ensure that lessons are learnt from past experiences, such as the recent aborted SCALP export to Egypt.

General conclusions

167.It is important to bear in mind that the concept phase still leaves the UK and French authorities with the best part of two years to reach an agreement on the continuation of the FC/ASW programme. We are, therefore, still at the beginning of the process, and there still remains time to refine the expectations and demands of the political and military authorities, both nationally and jointly.

168.It is nevertheless essential to realise that the FC/ASW may not succeed and to be aware of the potential consequences of such a failure. Should the FC/ASW programme not proceed after the concept phase concludes in 2020, either for technological or cost reasons, there could be significant consequences for UK-French cooperation and to the unique industrial partnership and skills bases that have emerged in both countries via MBDA. The strengthening of the Franco-British industrial and technological defence base, through the increasingly extensive integration of MBDA, has been one of the pillars of the Lancaster House agreement.

169.However, such a scenario need not materialise. We are hopeful that both parties will work to achieve a successful outcome to the concept phase. The concept phase is, as mentioned above, still relatively young and it is clear that good progress has been made to date. While there are key issues that both parties need to resolve, we are certain that they can be resolved amicably and successfully. As Sir Simon Bollom pointed out in London, France and the United Kingdom have a very mature relationship built over the years and based entirely on compromise. This joint inquiry has been a testament to this strong and pragmatic relationship and is a mark of our interest in its continuing success.

79 Qq 2–4, 55, 57, 76

80 Qq2–3

81 Q84

82 Q57

83 Franco-British summit of Sandhurst, 18 January 2018, joint communiqué.

84 Le Figaro, 20 September 2018.

85 Q105

86 Q75

87 Q111

88 Devaux, J-P., and Ford, R., “Scalp EG / Storm Shadow: the lessons of successful cooperation”, Foundation for Strategic Research, Research & Documents, no. 09/2018, p.15.

89 Q23

90 Devaux, J-P., and Ford, R., “Scalp EG / Storm Shadow: the lessons of successful cooperation”, Foundation for Strategic Research, Research & Documents, no. 09/2018

91 Q73

92 Q112

93 For example, the METEOR programme requires a specific consultation process between partner nations before the exporting country can issue its licence.

94 ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) is not the only control mechanism implemented by the US authorities. Other tools include the EAR (Export Administration Regulation) and the OFAC sanctions (Office of Foreign Assets Control).

95 Devaux, J-P., and Ford, R., “Scalp EG / Storm Shadow: the lessons of successful cooperation”, Foundation for Strategic Research, Research & Documents, no. 09/2018

Published: 12 December 2018