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France Delay Leaves U.K. Helo Without Weapon Capability

Feb. 21, 2013 - 03:59PM   |  
By PIERRE TRAN   |   Comments
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Paris — France’s procurement chief praised the “excellent file’’ prepared for a proposed Anglo-French helicopter-borne anti-ship missile, but a delay by the French defense minister in approving the program could leave a new U.K. helicopter scrambling for a missile capability.

“Everything’s fine. We have an excellent dossier, which we will propose to the defense minister, who will decide what he wants to do,” Laurent Collet-Billon, chief of France’s Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office, told a press conference about the DGA’s activities in 2012.

European missile maker MBDA has pinned an industrial reorganization on a launch decision by Paris and London on the proposed missile, dubbed Anti-Navire Leger (ANL) missile in France, and Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) (Heavy) in Britain.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, however, postponed a decision to sign up for the cooperative missile program when the ministerial investment committee met on Feb. 11, business daily Les Echos reported Feb. 14.

The DGA and the military do not see ANL as a priority, but MBDA has proposed a rescheduling of other missile production to help launch the Anglo-French project, the paper reported. The reorganization, branded One Complex Weapons, would put into effect the concept of “mutual dependence,” as MBDA would close sites in Britain and France, a company executive said.

MBDA has said it would create centers of excellence in Britain and France to develop and build the new missile, estimated at 400 million euros ($538 million). France, however, has delayed committing, as the government draws up a white paper on defense and national security.

Continuing delay on a decision over the FASGW(H) is causing considerable concern in London, where France’s failure to move the program forward means the missile will not be ready to go into service onboard Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopters in 2015.

The British MoD approved the business case for the weapon in January last year and even tried to make the French decision easier by offering to fund the early development in return for Paris funding the back end of the program.

The British now face the embarrassment of fielding the helicopter without a missile.

One of the options under consideration is equipping the Wildcat earlier than planned with the

FASGW(Light) missile being developed by Thales UK to give the helicopter at least some form of missile capability.

Cooperation goes beyond ANL, Collet-Billon said. He and his British counterpart signed an agreement last July on work on a future unmanned combat aerial vehicle. That will bring together BAE Systems, Dassault, Rolls-Royce, Snecma and Thales, he said.

French troops are training in Wales on the Watchkeeper tactical UAV, which is due to come to the Istres test site, southern France, next month.

Other cooperative missile projects include a midlife upgrade on the Scalp/Storm Shadow cruise missile, and work on a future Anglo-French cruise missile, Collet-Billon said.

A program office has opened in the Paris suburbs for cooperation in mine warfare, with Collet-Billon describing warships equipped with unmanned undersea vessels for anti-mine operations.

The ANL would restore a capability for the French Navy, which operated the Aerospatiale AS12 anti-ship missile on Lynx and Alouette 3 helicopters until the 1990s.

With budget cuts looming, the Navy is keen to save funds for the FREMM multimission frigate and Barracuda submarine programs rather than a missile, the executive said.

Separately, German government officials have told their French counterparts clearance has been given for Mercedes to send chassis to land weapons maker Nexter and the privately owned Lohr group — the latter teamed with missile firm MBDA — that allows them to honor two arms deals with Saudi Arabia, a French defense official said.

Because the German government failed to give clearances, Mercedes missed deliveries to Nexter on Oct. 15, and to Lohr, the French integrator for the MBDA Multi Purpose Combat Vehicle, on Sept. 15.

The Saudi orders total 347 vehicles, with 279 Nexter Aravis highly protected armored vehicles, and 68 MPCVs, an air defense vehicle armed with Mistral 2 missiles.

France exported about 5 billion euros worth of equipment in 2012 compared with 6.5 billion euros the previous year. That figure is “far from excellent,” with an ideal figure being closer to the annual 10 billion euros spent in domestic orders, he said.

Le Drian was due in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 16, ahead of the Idex trade show, scheduled to open the following day.

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Andrew Chuter contributed to this report from London.

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