Philip Hammond, the new British foreign secretary, says other nations eventually could join an Anglo-French future combat air system program. (Oli Scarff/ / Getty Images)
FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND — British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has held out the prospect of other nations eventually joining the Anglo-French future combat air system program but said for now it would remain a bilateral effort.
“It’s possible [other partners might join] later but it’s a bilateral for now,” Hammond told reporters after he emerged from signing a deal with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian committing the two sides to a two-year, £120 million (US $205.4 million) study to look at their future unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) requirements.
The British minister said the partners were being pragmatic but that other nations will not be excluded from possibly joining the program later.
One industry executive said that wouldn’t satisfy the Germans or the Italians, who want to join the program while it was in the study phase or they risked signing up only after others had set the requirements.
A second executive said the need for development cash and high production volumes would likely drive the Anglo-French partners into a wider European arrangement at some stage.
A UCAV is seen as a critical component in retaining operational sovereignty as well as holding onto key defense aviation skills and capabilities as production in current fighters, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault’s Rafale, come to a close in the next few years.
Hammond had been defense secretary until a few hours before his appointment with Le Drian but all that changed when British Foreign Secretary William Hague resigned and Hammond found himself promoted.
Industry Minister Micheal Fallon was later named as the replacement for Hammond at the Defence Ministry.
With essentially no other senior politician available, Hammond went ahead and signed what is so far the most important industrial element of the 2010 Anglo-French defense treaty.
The deal will see three industrial teams drawn together to start an in-depth study of technologies likely to be required for a UCAV around the 2035 time frame.
BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation join together on the platform, Selex ES and Thales will work on sensors and communication, and Rolls-Royce and Snecma on the engines. ■