A slowdown in French R&D spending halted several new missile programs last year. The 2013 defense white paper pledges support for all of them once more, but the money still has to be secured.
Earlier this year MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier said a critical juncture had been reached in Anglo-French relations because France had failed to make vital budget decisions on some key industrial programs. Bouvier was loudest in his criticism of France’s failure to properly support the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon/Anti-Navire Léger (FASGW/ANL) anti-ship missile program.
The MBDA boss described FASGW/ANL as “a British priority, an urgent requirement with very strong and clear support from the U.K. side,” but France is stalling. “A positive French decision will be a strong confirmation of the willingness to pursue this Anglo-French cooperation,” he says. “The administration has been briefed about the consequences of a negative decision.”
This program was not the only bone of contention. Bouvier said the 2012 halt in all major French defense development spending by the Hollande government had affected several other essential new MBDA projects, including the MMP battlefield missile and the Aster NT ballistic missile interceptor.
Bouvier noted it was essential that France make a firm commitment, and more importantly, an early allocation of funding to secure the future of these programs. The U.K. has already said that without imminent French support it will move ahead with FASGW as a U.K.-only initiative. MBDA has had to prepare plans to redraw the program and the missile’s design to meet that eventuality.
The publication of the defense white paper — the Livre Blanc Défense et Sécurité Nationale 2013 — will provide some comfort to MBDA as it pays attention to all of the European missile maker’s priority programs. The French plan recognizes the “need for new operational capabilities [leading] to the launch of new programs” along with the requirement to maintain French industrial sovereignty.
Specific Livre Blanc future weapons highlights include: ANL, the lightweight anti-ship missile to be developed in cooperation with the U.K.; MMP, a medium-range infantry/battlefield missile to replace the Milan; FSAF ASTER 30 B1NT, the evolution of the(SAMP/T) missile system for deployable air defense, improving its ability to meet evolving threats; RMV SCALP, a modernization of the SCALP-EG (Storm Shadow) air-launched cruise missile to keep it effective until 2030 and beyond; and Successor MICA, a new air-air missile to replace today’s MICA-EM and MICA-IR.
The Livre Blanc also notes that production and procurement would continue for the latest Exocet anti-ship missiles and the new MdCN (Scalp Naval) cruise missile.
There was one surprise item in this list — the replacement for MICA. Many European nations, including France, are looking to the MBDA Meteor to provide their future long-range air-to-air missile capability. At the same time there are several short- and medium-range missiles in service — such as the French MICA, British Asraam and German-led IRIS-T — that complement the Meteor but which are not in obvious need of replacement. France has now signalled an intention to develop a new missile to take on that short- to medium-range air combat role — something not previously seen as a pressing requirement.
However, the Livre Blanc’s commitment to these future-looking programs still needs to be backed-up with funding. That has not yet happened and will not happen, under the regular French budgetary allocation system, until much later in the year. It remains to be seen if enough cash will arrive in time to keep this ambitious list of programs moving forward as required.