PARIS — Britain and France are close allies to be sure, but there will be "political tension" between Europe and the U.K. as London prepares to leave the European Union, Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier told Defense News on Wednesday .
The Lancaster house defense treaty binds the two countries, an alliance strengthened last year at an Anglo-French summit at Amiens, northern France, Trappier said on the sidelines of a military aeronautics conference organized by the think tank Fondation pour la Récherche Stratégique.
Britain's planned exit from the EU, known as Brexit, "will weigh heavily," he said. Trappier had been one of the panel speakers at the FRS conference, which was packed out.
Much will depend on political ties, as France has just elected a new president and a parliamentary election is due to be held, Trappier said. Beyond the bilateral Lancaster house agreement, France and the U.K. are two leading European military powers and NATO members, he added.
Britain is also going to the polls, with a general election to be held on June 8, as Prime Minister Theresa May looks for a clear majority to back the Conservative government in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
Maintaining close bilateral ties is crucial, as Paris and London pledged at the Amiens meeting to fund a £1.54 billion (U.S. $1.98 billion) project to build two demonstrators for the future combat air system demonstration program with BAE Systems, Leonardo and Rolls-Royce in the U.K. working respectively with Dassault, Thales and Safran in France. BAE and Dassault would work together on the airframe.
Trappier said he had "great confidence" in European defense, with France, Germany, Italy and Spain backing studies on requirements for a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV. That project held strategic significance in Europe, as the U.S. had been shifting attention away from the continent before the election of Donald Trump as United States president, Trappier added.
European nations could finally opt to buy a U.S. drone, but that would entail rules of strict confidentiality of key American technology, he said.
Asked about his top priority, "the immediate priority," Trappier said, was to build an addition to the range of Falcon business jets. A new Falcon would allow the company to "keep a foot in civil and military markets," he said.
There was French support for the military side, with new standards for the Rafale and export sales, and there would be work on the planned unmanned combat aerial vehicle and ISR drone, he said.
On India, Dassault is committed to working "long term," with hopes for an order of a second batch of Rafale fighters for New Delhi, he said.
Trappier told regional paper Sud Ouest earlier this month that there were talks for a second contract. "India has immense requirements. For the Navy, there is the question of 57 aircraft," he said.
The Indian Navy is looking for a multi-role carrier-borne fighter, which has reportedly drawn interest from Boeing, MiG and Saab, as well as Dassault.
Defense News' correspondent in India, Vivek Raghuvanshi, says Dassault does indeed have robust inroads in the country. India is currently facing a resource crunch, but that will not have a bearing on defense, he said, adding that irrespective of a change in power in France, the company will likely receive repeat Rafale orders.
There are also talks with Malaysia for a potential order for 18 fighters, he told the regional paper, adding that there was great interest in the Asian market for the years to come.
Dassault won in September an Indian contract worth about €7.89 billion (U.S. $8.80 billion) for 36 Rafales, with an option for a further 18 units. That deal included offsets and local production of components, but the company has previously said the order was too small to justify local assembly of the multi-role fighter.
French voters go to the polls in a two-round election on June 11 and 18 to elect members of Parliament. That general election follows the presidential election in May, which brought Emmanuel Macron to the Elysées office as head of state.
Macron, an independent centrist, hopes to win the votes needed to build parliamentary support for his plans to reform a lagging domestic economy and pursue a strong European defense, partnered with Germany.
Vivek Raghuvanshi in New Delhi contributed to this report.