PARIS — To Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the French Direction Générale de l'Armement procurement office, the U.K. remains a key partner, even with massive change expected from Britain's planned exit from the European Union. That commitment is evident in joint defense initiatives, notably the £1.54 billion (U.S. $1.96 billion) project to build an unmanned combat aerial vehicle demonstrator. For that, London is currently the sole partner.
But the DGA chief sees great potential beyond that Anglo-French partnership. To him, defense partnerships with regional allies are key to expanding France's own national security. He points to efforts to work with Berlin, Rome and Madrid on studies for a European medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, for example, as well as cooperation on other aeronautics and space programs.
So the pursuit of European defense is on.
Collet-Billon spoke to Pierre Tran of Defense News ahead of the Paris Air Show.
Will the British exit from the European Union, or Brexit, hurt the Anglo-French Future Combat Air System Demonstration Program, or FCAS DP? Will Germany join the project?
Brexit is not incompatible with the Lancaster House agreement. We will continue programs such as the Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy), Maritime Mine Counter Measures, and FCAS DP.
Regarding FCAS DP, we have ongoing discussions for the minimum two-year contracts that will lead to two demonstrators in 2025. We are working to have a contract by the end of the year. We are discussing technical specifications. There are active, rigorous discussions on successors to Storm Shadow, Exocet and other missiles.
We have always said to the British, that at some time in the future we would let the Germans know where we are to let them join the program if they wish. Last year, we told them we had not reached that point as we had not frozen the targets for the demonstrator. The principle is still open.
The U.K. is an essential military power in Europe, with a great deal of know-how, operational experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. We hold joint exercises. That counts.
Are there new projects with Germany and other partners on the continent for European defense?
The Minister for Armed Forces, Sylvie Goulard, wants to give a boost to our cooperation with Germany and our other partners. There will be something in aeronautics, with opportunities such as the medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV. The next step is to validate the feasibility study. There are four partners — France, Germany and Italy and soon Spain. The timetable is around 2025.
There is [the] Tornado replacement for Germany by 2035, and then Eurofighter and Rafale replacement in 2040-45. And before 2035, the question of UCAV has also to be addressed. How do we arrange a common roadmap? There will be dialog with other European countries, the start of a long road.
We are studying strong cooperation with Italy in the naval domain, also military space with Italy and Germany, for next generation communications, optical and radar satellites.
What is important about the acquisition of STX shipyard by Fincantieri?
The main requirement is guaranteed access to the Saint-Nazaire dockyard, which is large enough to build a logistics and supply ship or an aircraft carrier. It is out of the question that STX compete with DCNS on highly armed ships.
It is very smart to have closer ties between DCNS and Fincantieri — except nuclear submarines, which are French eyes only. Fincantieri is a longstanding partner, with Horizon and multi-mission frigates, and we wish to cooperate with Italy on logistics and supply ships. There are lots of possibilities: capital, development, production and sales. It is not impossible that DCNS take a stake in STX.