PARIS — MBDA is in talks with French authorities regarding an upgrade of its ground-based air defense missile, dubbed Aster New Technology (NT), intended to hit ballistic missiles at longer range, MBDA Chief Executive Antoine Bouvier said March 20.
“Aster New Technology is an evolution on which we are working,” Bouvier told a press conference on the company’s 2011 results. “Discussions are going on. I can’t be more specific.”
MBDA has presented the Aster NT concept to French and Italian authorities, he said. The NT model is part of MBDA’s strategy to build its ballistic missile defense capabilities around the Aster. A French contract to develop and build the missile is seen as vital for exports.
The NT version was among MBDA projects identified in a key July 2011 meeting with the French Defense Ministry, which agreed to a 10-year support plan for the missile sector. The French plan is similar to a British industrial policy based on the Team Complex Weapons approach.
MBDA is a joint venture, owned 37.5 percent by BAE Systems, 37.5 percent by EADS, and 25 percent by Finmeccanica.
The Aster NT would allow the current Aster Block 1 to hit ballistic missiles at a range of 1,000 kilometers, an extension of 400 kilometers from its current range.
The NT model first appeared as an intermediate step in MBDA’s 2008 Aster road map, which set out a plan, then estimated at 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion), to build the Block 2 model.
The Block 2 would be built beginning in 2020 and be able to intercept ballistic missiles at a range of 3,000 kilometers.
Missile defense will be one of the topics at NATO’s May summit in Chicago, when alliance members are expected to announce contributions to a ballistic missile defense system.
France and Italy will put in their current Aster batteries, known as Sol Air Moyen Porté/Terrestre (SAMP/T), as contributions in kind to NATO’s ballistic missile defense program.
“Europe has cards to play,” Bouvier said.
French and European announcements on NATO missile defense commitments would give a road map on product development, which would boost confidence of prospective export customers in Asia and the Middle East, he said.
“2012 is an essential year,” Bouvier said.
France’s other contribution in kind will be an early warning space satellite system based on the Spirale demonstrator, and Paris will also help fund the command-and-control system. The NATO missile defense system has been broadened to territorial coverage from its initial purpose of protecting troops in a combat theater.
The U.S. deployment of missiles in the NATO system is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars over 10 to 15 years, Bouvier estimated.
There is a concern European allies will buy American weapons off the shelf because of a lack of reciprocal purchase of European weapons, Bouvier said.
“Is there a balance in reciprocity? Today, I don’t think there is a balance on the subject,” he said. “We’re working on presenting European capabilities,” he said. The European capabilities included extended air defense based on the Aster, he said.
Other weapons being discussed with NATO under its smart defense system of pooling and sharing were the Brimstone precision air-ground weapon and Meteor long-range air superiority missile, Bouvier said.
If America wants Europe to have a more capable defense, this will not be achieved simply by buying U.S. products but through a balanced relationship with industrial and operational capabilities, Bouvier said.
With European defense budgets under pressure, MBDA’s business model is to pursue a partnership with individual countries aimed at pursuing common, long-term objectives that consider operational capabilities, and industrial and financial capacity, he said.
MBDA would pursue deeper industrial integration because cooperation based on common programs, such as Aster, the French Scalp and British Storm Shadow cruise missiles, is not enough.
The company is reorganizing around technological and industrial competences, starting with Britain and France, then extending to Italy and Germany.
MBDA will also develop a partnership approach with strategic countries, notably India, including setting up joint venture companies.
In product policy, MBDA plans to upgrade its deep-strike capability because Scalp and Storm Shadow are mature weapons.
The company is in talks with the French Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office for a development and production contract for a new missile moyenne portée.
MBDA had sales of about 3 billion euros in 2011, up 5 percent from the previous year and 15 percent above the 2009 level. MBDA reported 2010 sales at 2.8 billion euros.
New orders totaled 2.6 billion euros, up from to 2.2 billion, of which about 30 percent was in exports, around the same level as the previous year.
MBDA booked an Indian contract estimated at about 1 billion euros for Mica air-to-air missiles for the Mirage 2000 fleet in January, narrowly missing its target of booking 2011 orders worth more than 3 billion euros.
The 2012 target for orders was to hit a level significantly above 2012 sales, Bouvier said. The total order backlog was “robust,” at 10 billion euros, or three years’ activity. The cash position was “comfortable,” Bouvier said.