A deal signed by France and the UK will produce one of the missiles that will arm the Royal Navy's AW159 Wildcat helicopter. (AgustaWestland)
LONDON — Britain and France have signed a £500 million (US $827.2 million) deal with MBDA to demonstrate and produce a helicopter-mounted anti-surface missile.
The weapon, known in Britain as the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) or FASGW(H) for short, is the first major collaborative production deal to emerge from the Anglo-French defense treaty signed in 2010.
Separately, the British Ministry of Defence is expected to follow up with two other related deals to equip a new Royal Navy helicopter with its main armaments.
Contracts to develop a second missile type, the FASGW (Lite), and a deal with AgustaWestland to integrate both weapons on the new AW159 Wildcat helicopter destined for the Royal Navy, are expected in the second quarter of the year, said sources here.
FASGW (Lite) is based on the Lightweight Multirole Missile being developed by Thales UK at its Belfast, Northern Ireland site.
The two nations finally approved a deal to go ahead with the FASGW(H) program at the Anglo-French summit, which took place Jan 31.
Britain’s portion of the deal is valued at £280 million.
Paris had previously dragged its feet over approval due to budget pressures and because its military had no requirement for the weapon until at least the early 2020s.
Delays in French approval threatened to jeopardize the Anglo-French Defence Treaty before Paris signaled last year it would go ahead with the program.
The delay means the British are in the embarrassing position of having their new AgustaWestland-built Wildcat helicopter due to enter service with the Royal Navy next year without either of its two main missile armaments available.
Last month, the Ministry of Defence admitted that the planned in-service date for both weapons was late 2020, five years behind schedule.
The MoD wouldn’t comment on whether it had any plans to keep the current Sea Skua anti-surface missiles carried by Royal Navy Lynx helicopters in service beyond their current out of service date.
“Plans for the future of Sea Skua are ongoing and it would be inappropriate to speculate further at this time,” an MoD spokesman said earlier this month.
The Wildcat will also carry machine guns and torpedoes.
The French 2014-19 multiyear budget law published last year only sets out joint development and certification with the UK on the missile in the six years covered. Delivery of the weapons, known as the Anti Navire Leger in France, will be included in the next budget law.
A decision on which French helicopter will be armed with the new missile will depend on talks between the Navy and the procurement officials, with cost one of the factors in the equation, officials in Paris said recently.
The decision to go ahead with the weapons’ development has significance beyond just the military requirement, though.
FASGW(H) is key to a plan by MBDA to rationalize the Anglo-French side of its business by creating a series of centers of excellence, removing duplication and creating a mutual dependency across the two nations’ missile activities for the future.
A South Korean order for the AW159s will be delivered with the Spike non-line-of-sight missile from Israeli manufacturer Rafael for its main missile armament.
Antoine Bouvier, MBDA’s CEO, said: “This program initiates a new era of cooperation that will allow significant efficiencies on future program. Instead of combining their efforts program by program as has been the case up to now, France and the UK will coordinate their development and acquisition approach to eliminate duplication in the missile sector. A decisive step has been made towards the reinforcement and sustainability of the missile industry sector in Europe.”
MBDA’s Italian and German operations are not included in the industrial co-operation deal.
FASGW(H) will be capable of destroying targets from fast inshore attack craft to large vessels, such as corvettes. ■