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

Conclusions and recommendations

FC/ASW: The Rationale for a Joint Programme

1.The industrial mutual dependence embodied by MBDA forms an important pillar of UK-France cooperation post-Lancaster House and this unique model of industrial cooperation has been to the benefit of both countries’ industrial and skills bases. (Paragraph 28)

2.There is a serious, and growing, risk of incidents between powers, incidents that themselves pose an increased risk of an escalation of violence. As a result, both of our countries need to be prepared, and equipped, for the prospect of high-intensity conflict in mind. (Paragraph 36)

3.The continuation of the FC/ASW programme beyond the concept phase will require, after 2020, that new bilateral agreements be concluded between France and the United Kingdom. For political momentum around this programme to be sustained, the two countries’ ability to resolve certain outstanding issues will undoubtedly be essential. (Paragraph 84)

Future issues to resolve

4.For the Royal Navy to be an effective force its surface fleet must be properly equipped with a suite of offensive and defensive weapons. To date, this has included a specialist, heavyweight anti-ship missile capability, in the form of the Harpoon missile system. When Harpoon exits service in 2023, there will be a serious capability gap, until the potential entry into service of FC/ASW programme in 2030. This gap will not be adequately filled by the smaller and more lightweight anti-ship missiles that will be available from 2020 onwards on the Navy’s Wildcat helicopters. (Paragraph 105)

5.We appreciate that the MoD will want to fill this capability gap, and there are a number of ‘bridging’ options available, varying in age, cost and capabilities. However, the MoD will need to weigh carefully the implications of any choice for both the FC/ASW programme and the broader state of UK-French defence relations, as well as for the UK industrial base. (Paragraph 106)

6.It is clear from the evidence gathered by our joint inquiry that any decision to procure a ‘bridging’ system with long post-2030 life expectancy would not be viewed favourably in Paris and could pose a serious threat to the strong bilateral relationship that has developed since 2010. (Paragraph 107)

7.Alongside the work being undertaken by the FC/ASW concept phase, the MoD should conduct a careful analysis of the various options for filling the capability gap. This analysis should include a technical assessment of: the potential for Harpoon’s lifespan to be extended; whether other existing capabilities could be augmented to provide a stronger anti-ship function; the various off-the-shelf options that exist, including the procurement of Harpoon Block II for the P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft; and the potential procurement of Exocet as a surface-to-surface capability for the Royal Navy. (Paragraph 108)

8.In making these assessments, the MoD should carefully balance the savings that could be made in procuring an existing system against the potential costs to the UK industrial base - in terms of jobs and skills and the UK’s sovereign capabilities - and to the UK-French defence relationship. (Paragraph 109)

9.Convergence on key operational and capability requirements will be essential to any successful move from the Concept Phase to a fully-fledged FC/ASW programme. One of the most important areas where convergence needs to be met is in the question of whether the programme should give precedence to supersonic or subsonic, but stealthy, missiles. (Paragraph 114)

10.Reaching convergence on this matter may not necessarily require a zero-sum decision between stealth or velocity. One possible solution, that should be explored during the Concept Phase, should be a supersonic anti-ship missile accompanied by a stealthier deep-strike missile, both missiles sharing, nevertheless, a high degree of similarity on certain components. Such an approach would build on the respective strengths of both countries in missile development and, as a result, could lead to a more efficient distribution of development and production work. (Paragraph 115)

11.MBDA is a unique, UK-French enterprise with a substantial set of expertise and skills in the missile manufacturing process. That MBDA was chosen to conduct the concept phase is itself a vote of confidence in its abilities and we note the significance of the potential FC/ASW contract to the maintenance, and development, of MBDA’s footprint in both the UK and France. If the final decision is indeed taken to award the main contract to MBDA without a competition, safeguards will need to be in place to ensure value for money for both countries. (Paragraph 120)

12.We recognise that UK and French Governments have traditionally adopted different approaches to defence procurement and that reaching agreement might take some time. However, it is surprising that the two Governments appear not yet to have discussed the potential procurement process for the FC/ASW programme. While the concept phase was only launched in 2017, the swift turnaround envisaged following its conclusion in 2020 requires both Governments to be aligned on the procurement process. We recommend that both Governments begin discussions on the potential procurement process for the FC/ASW programme and reach a tentative agreement on such a process by the time the phase concludes in 2020. (Paragraph 121)

13.It is essential that the FC/ASW is interoperable with a broad range of platforms deployed by the UK and France’s allies. This is both for commercial and, more importantly, operational reasons. The FC/ASW will therefore need to be capable of being integrated with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and interoperable with the ALIS system and the MADL data link that enables F-35s to exchange sensitive information. (Paragraph 125)

14.Preserving our sovereign control on the future missiles is not incompatible with the priority given to the interoperability with the platforms used by our allies. Therefore, we urge both Governments and MBDA to explore, during the next half of the concept phase, how interoperability with allies such as the United States and with platforms that are primarily built by US companies, and or which rely on US software, can be provided. This can be done without prejudice to the UK’s and France’s sovereign control of the FC/ASW programme. (Paragraph 126)

15.This chapter has identified a number of important issues that need to be resolved for the FC/ASW programme to progress successfully after the concept phase concludes in 2020. Resolving these issues will require a spirit of pragmatism and compromise from both countries. However, while these issues are significant, they are not insuperable and, in light of the UK and France’s long and strong relationship, we are fully confident in the capacity of our two countries to reach agreement. (Paragraph 127)

Ultimately a flagship programme in the interests of both countries

16.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. (Paragraph 166)

17.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. (Paragraph 167)

18.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. (Paragraph 168)

19.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. (Paragraph 169)

Published: 12 December 2018