The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 12/10/20

 In Weekly Wire
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10th Anniversary of Franco-British Military Cooperation

Alix Leboulanger, Research Associate

10 years after signing the Lancaster Agreement in November 2010, the British and French industrial defense cooperation is still alive and kicking. United on the military operational frontlines (such as Operation Harmattan in 2011, allied operations in Levant against ISIS, and the Royal Air Force support in Mali to name a few), both countries have learned how to strengthen their joint structures and deployments.

However, on the industrial side, obstacles have risen over the years due to lack of funding or political support as respective agendas have slowly diverged, with projects on hold and/or terminated, such as the $2.5 billion unmanned combat aerial vehicle demonstrator. Anticipated for a long time by both countries, a future fighter program between the UK and France around a consortium of BAE Systems, Dassault, Leonardo, Thales, Rolls-Royce, and Safran, also unfortunately faced the same outcome, largely due to Brexit.

The new TEMPEST program (which involves the UK, Italy, and Sweden to some extent) on one side, and the Future Combat Air System (which involved France, Germany, and Spain) on the other side have put both allies at odds and seemed to have halted a promising industrial alliance. Additional Brexit turpitudes and the pandemic have casted an even darker shadow on joint collaborations. However, this would be misinterpreting both countries’ intent. Several programs, potentially lower profile than future jets, but still prominent on the technological side have recently completed important milestones. In fact, cooperation on missile developments and mine warfare are gathering momentum in this anniversary month, notably with:

  • On November 16, Thales UK was awarded a contract to produce and deliver the first three systems of naval anti-mine drones to the Royal Navy for £184 million ($205 million). The program production phase has also been approved by the DGA in France in late October 2020 and it will involve a disruptive architecture to tackle mine warfare through manned and unmanned assets.
  • On November 26, the French DGA successfully achieved finial qualification firing trials for the ANL/Sea Venom missile program that will equip the Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters and future French Navy Guepards.
    The conceptual phase around the future anti-ship/cruise missile (dubbed FMAN/FMC) is also on track, with an expected transition towards development by 2024, after a seamless conceptual phase launched in 2017 for €100 million ($119.5 million). This project is aimed at replacing the current Exocet, Harpoon, and SCALP/Storm Shadow.

The UK-French defense collaboration will certainly be tortuous with many more ups and down. Selected S&T domains in space, C4ISR, weapons, and naval warfare may hold many future opportunities for joint collaboration in the years to come, in which both countries will thrive together, alongside NATO and other European Permanent Structured Cooperation projects.

Spain

On December 2, a contract was awarded that will enable Spanish companies to take part in additional research and development activities for the European Next Generation Weapons System, also known as Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Spanish companies will participate in six of the developmental pillars of the FCAS program, with Airbus’s Spanish subsidiary Airbus DS SAU leading Spanish efforts to develop the New Generation Fighter and Low Observability Technologies. At the same time, Spanish efforts in developing the Next Generation Fighter engine will be led by ITP Aero. Indra will lead work in the pillars responsible for the Combat Cloud and the integration of simulators and System of Systems, while work in Pillar 3, Remote Operators, will be led by the Satnus consortium made up of GMV, Senser, and Technobit.

Spanish industry will now work with French and German industry in each of the development pillars under Phase 1A which is taking place until mid-2021 before Phase 1B and 2 take place through 2027. The contract marks a significant step for Spain in the program, with Spanish industry now playing a major role in the development of the system. The FCAS demonstrator is scheduled for 2026 and the development program is said to worth more than $1 billion.

France

On December 8, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the current Charles de Gaulle carrier would be replaced with a new carrier by 2038. Like the Charles de Gaulle, it will be nuclear powered, a decision made to ensure that France maintains the associated strategic industrial capability. But the new carrier will be significantly larger at 75,000 tons displacement, compared to the Charles de Gaulle’s 42,000 tons. First steel cutting is planned for 2025 and sea trials for 2036. France will make an initial $1.2 billion investment towards development, though estimates of the full cost of production have not yet been confirmed. The new carrier will likely first operate with Rafale M fighters, eventually being replaced by a naval variant of the Future Combat Air System being jointly developed by France, Germany, and Spain. Previous future carrier plans called for a carrier similar in configuration to the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. This plan was dropped in 2013. The current plan calls for a configuration closer to the Ford-class with an electromagnetic catapult and an island in a more aft location on the ship.

Germany

The German Bundeswehr has announced its new strategy for CH-53G replacement, after the prior effort was aborted in September 2020. Instead of seeking a Direct Commercial Sale, the German Ministry of Defense (MoD) will be looking to acquire either Boeing’s CH-47F or Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K via a Foreign Military Sale. Such a request would be a significant departure from the initial acquisition effort, where the German MoD sought a significant amount of customization of the aircraft including a new weather radar and substantial German communications equipment. A Foreign Military Sale, meanwhile, will follow general US equipment packages for the aircraft, but only allow for some specific customization.

The Bundeswehr is seeking an aggressive timeline on the request, which was submitted on November 20 with request due December 4, with the hopes of completing the project ahead of potential turnover following German elections next year.

Qatar

On December 8, Germany approved the sale of 15 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Qatar. The sale is valued at approximately $37.9 million, and also includes 30mm automatic cannons, spare barrels, and 16,000 rounds of ammunition. This is the second major arms sale to Qatar for Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the manufacturer of the Gepard system, in recent years – having secured a contract for artillery and tanks in 2013. According to Der Spiegel, Qatar intends to use the cannons to defend the 2022 World Cup against terrorist drone attacks.

Australia

On December 4, the State Department approved a Foreign Military Sale to Australia for 155mm ammunition, accessories, and related equipment worth $132.2 million. Specific equipment includes M825A1 White Phosphorous projectile munitions, M782 multi-option fuzes, M762A1 electronic-timed fuzes, M231 and M232A2 propelling charges, and precision timers. The award also covers costs of technical assistance, operational maintenance, and related elements of logistics and program support. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) suggested that the Australian Army should be able to incorporate the incoming munitions seamlessly given its prior experience using the equipment in both training and combat scenarios. A principal contractor has not yet been selected, as it remains to be seen whether the munitions will be sourced from Department of Defense stocks, new procurement, or a combination of the two.

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