UK Prime Minister David Cameron, right, introduces French President François Hollande to Royal Air Force members in front of an A400M airlifter at Brize Norton air base in central England on Jan. 31. The leaders agreed during the one-day summit to cooperate on some key defense projects. (Agence France-Presse)
PARIS — Britain and France agreed Jan. 31 to invest £200 million (US $329 million) for two-year studies on a future combat drone, and signed up for work on an anti-ship missile and an anti-mine system, French government and industry sources said.
Defense ministers from the countries signed memorandums of understanding at a meeting led by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande, held at the Brize Norton air base in the UK.
London and Paris will equally fund a total £120 million, two-year common feasibility study for the combat drone, dubbed the Future Air Combat System, the French MoD said in a statement.
Each country also will fund a total of £80 million for national studies on the unmanned fighter, a defense official and an industry executive said.
“This launch by the French and British authorities is contributing to the development of the combat air systems sector and is paving the way for the future in this strategic field,” Dassault Executive Chairman Eric Trappier said in a statement.
Dassault and BAE Systems lead the drone project, with Rolls-Royce and Snecma, and Selex and Thales teamed respectively for the engine and electronic systems.
An agreement for the MBDA helicopter-borne missile, dubbed Anti-Navire Léger/Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy), is a step toward British and French interdependence, based on a specialization of industrial skills, a second French official said.
The €500 million missile program is equally shared between the partner nations. Paris hopes the consolidation move will send a signal to other governments as European defense budgets erode, the official said.
An anti-mine study, dubbed Maritime Mine Counter Measures, will launch development of prototype surface and underwater drones.
Other commitments included continuing efforts to form a 10,000-strong combined joint expeditionary force by 2016 and anti-terrorism work.
France sees the agreements as moving ahead on the 2010 Lancaster House treaty, which aimed to boost defense cooperation.
Cameron and Hollande and ministers met for bilateral talks after watching a demonstration including an Airbus A400M airlifter, A330 multirole tanker and transport, Boeing C-17 transport, Thales UK Watchkeeper tactical drone, and infantry fighting vehicle Véhicule Blindé Combat d’Infanterie from Nexter and Renault Trucks Defense.
Brize Norton is a hub for transport flights, and British planes take off from there to support French troops in the Central African Republic and Mali.
France offered Paris-based reporters seats on the A400M flying to the summit, which was held in Cameron’s political constituency. Besides defense, the two countries signed up to cooperate on nuclear energy and space observation, including a link up between French and UK space agencies. ■