LONDON — Efforts by Britain and France to forge a closer defense equipment partnership have been dogged by the awkward timing of political, funding and strategic issues since the two nations signed a wide-ranging defense treaty in 2010, according to the U.K.’s top defense procurement official.
“Part of the difficulty has been in integrating our work. For the first 12 months I was in post we were [unclear] about commitments to the equipment program, and having got to the position in spring 2012 where we had settled the program down, balanced it and funded those elements we wished to pursue, almost immediately the French went into their election cycle and then went to work on their [defense] white paper,” said Bernard Gray, Britain’s chief of defense materiel.
Gray, who directs the British MoD’s 13 billion pound ($19.7 billion) equipment procurement and support effort, said the result was that “progress is not as swift as I am sure either of us would have wanted. Both of us want to do better but progress is difficult,” he told an audience of industrialists and others at the International Institute of Strategic Studies here Feb 25.
A program to co-develop a helicopter-borne anti-ship missile has been the most public example of lack of progress on the industrial front.
Continuing delay by France over whether to back development of the MBDA Future Anti-Ship Guided Weapon (Heavy) has caused consternation in London. The delay in moving 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 2012 and even tried to make the French decision easier by offering to fund the early development work in return for Paris funding the back end of the program.
The British now face the embarrassment of fielding the helicopter without its main weapon.
Despite the difficulties, Gray said the U.K. and France maintain a good working relationship on a number of programs.
Finding a window of opportunity to make collaborative decisions is likely to continue to cause problems, and not just with France. Gray said the upcoming German elections would soon impact decision-making in Berlin.
“Understandingly, the French will want to take their time in getting their defense review right and that will take us further into 2013, by which time we start to head toward the next U.K. election. It’s not just the U.K. and France, of course, there are issues where for example Germany will not be able to make decisions from about now until through to around Christmas because of their election cycle. It’s genuinely a problem and I don’t have a particularly good answer to it,” Gray said.
The French white paper had been expected to be published in February but that has slipped. The French Navy wants to keep scarce funds for ships rather than a missile, as budgets are due to be cut, an industry executive has said.
The defense treaty signed by government leaders in November 2010 covered cooperation across military, nuclear and equipment fields in what was the most significant defense tie-up by Europe’s two largest defense powers in more than 50 years.
Pierre Tran contributed to this report from Paris.