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Anglo-French Joint Inquiry Reports on Future Anti-Ship Missile Systems

Defence Committee Press Notice – 12 December 2018

The UK and French Governments have every interest in successfully completing the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon programme say the House of Commons Defence Committee and the Assemblée nationale’s Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces, in a joint report published today. 

The report, drafted and agreed by both Committees, marks the culmination of the first joint Inquiry between a House of Commons Committee and a Committee of a non-UK legislature. The Inquiry, which is a new step in UK-French inter-parliamentary cooperation on defence and national security matters, has focused on one of the most ambitious products of the Lancaster House Agreement signed between the UK and French Governments in 2010 – the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) programme.

New generation of deep strike and anti-ship missiles by 2030

The FC/ASW seeks to develop a new generation of deep strike and anti-ship missiles by 2030, replacing the capabilities hitherto provided by Harpoon and Exocet (anti-ship missiles) and SCALP/Storm Shadow (deep strike missiles). In 2017, both Governments agreed to conduct a ‘concept phase’, led by MBDA. This phase is due to conclude in 2020 after which Ministers will need to decide whether to proceed to a ‘design, development and production phase’ for the FC/ASW to come into service in 2030. 

Issues that need resolving for FC/ASW programme to continue after 2020

The joint Inquiry, which included joint evidence sessions in London and Paris, found that – while good progress had been made in the ‘concept phase’ to date – several key issues need to be resolved in order for the FC/ASW programme to continue after 2020. These issues include:

  • The approach the MoD chooses to take in filling the ‘capability gap’ that will emerge when Harpoon retires from service in 2023. The MoD will need to decide whether to opt for a short-term ‘bridging capability’ to see the UK through to the coming into service of the FC/ASW, or a longer-term replacement capability that could call the FC/ASW into question. The joint report urges the MoD to balance carefully the savings that could be made from a longer-term off-the-shelf replacement for Harpoon against the potential costs to the UK’s industrial base as well as to its defence relationship with France if FC/ASW were not to proceed;
  • The necessity of achieving convergence on key operational requirements – especially on whether the FC/ASW programme should give precedence to supersonic or stealth missile technology;
  • The procurement process for the FC/ASW programme post-2020, including safeguards to ensure value for money if MBDA is awarded the main contract without competition; and
  • Interoperability of the FC/ASW with platforms deployed by the UK’s and France’s allies in NATO. 

While the joint report notes that there is a risk of FC/ASW not proceeding after 2020, it emphasizes that there is still ample time for differences to be ironed out. The two Committees express confidence that these issues “can be resolved amicably and successfully”.

Chairman's comments

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP said:

"The FC/ASW programme is an exciting opportunity to deepen the UK’s and France’s defence partnership and the ‘One Complex Weapons Initiative’, involving MBDA, that has helped to sustain key skills in both countries’ defence industrial bases.  

"However, for the programme to succeed, it is clear that some significant issues need to be resolved before the ‘concept phase’ concludes in 2010 and both Governments must approach these issues in a spirit of pragmatism and compromise.

"If these issues can be resolved – and we are confident that they can – then this programme has the potential to strengthen considerably the cooperation between our two countries, including our role in the collective defence of Europe within NATO. 

"Today’s report is a testament to the strength of the UK’s defence partnership with France, irrespective of our forthcoming departure from the European Union."

[To read the full Report, click here.]

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The United Kingdom and France have had a long and successful history of defence cooperation. In 2010, this partnership reached a new level with the signing of the Lancaster House agreements. These agreements strengthened cooperation between our two countries in both capabilities and operations, helping to consolidate a defence relationship which, by its breadth and depth, has few equivalents anywhere.

On 7 February 2018, in the margins of the regular quadrilateral meetings of the Defence Committees of both chambers of both Parliaments, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, and the President of the Assemblée nationale’s Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces, M. Jean-Jacques Bridey, agreed to launch a joint inquiry of the two Committees. Both Committees agreed that this unprecedented initiative would examine a key pillar of UK-France defence cooperation: the future cruise/anti-ship weapon (FC/ASW) missile programme.

The FC/ASW programme is intended to build upon bilateral cooperation in the missile sector that has steadily developed since the 1990s when the SCALP/Storm Shadow programme was launched. This cooperation resulted in the integration of our missile industries into a unique and globally-sized industrial player: MBDA. The Lancaster House agreements, which led to the ‘One MBDA’ initiative, further rationalised this consolidation by instituting a relationship of interdependence between France and the United Kingdom, leading to the establishment of centres of excellence in both countries.

  • The joint management of the FC/ASW programme is based, above all, on the recognition of a strategic and operational convergence between France and the United Kingdom. As both countries share similar analyses of the threats that they face, the operational requirements for both countries’ armed services is naturally comparable.
  • Consequently, the FC/ASW aims to provide a heavy anti-ship capability to deal with the possibility of a confrontation on the high seas and a deep strike ability that can penetrate and neutralise air defences and hit long-distance targets.
  • In order to ensure a high level of performance of future missiles, many improvements in scope, speed, stealth, manoeuvrability and connectivity are currently under consideration, as part of a concept phase led by MBDA. This concept phase, running from 2017 to 2020, followed a preliminary study, undertaken by both Governments in partnership with MBDA, and precedes the design, development and production phase which is expected to start in 2020.

The successful conclusion of this programme will nonetheless require some unresolved issues to be answered.

  • The main issue is the question of how the United Kingdom will deal with the ‘capability gap’ for heavy anti-ship weapons as a result of the withdrawal from service of the Harpoon missile 2023.
  • In addition, there has been a divergence between the UK and France when it comes to prioritising stealth or prioritising hypervelocity. To date, the UK’s choices have focused more on stealth, while France has favoured velocity. The ability to agree on a vector, or even a family of vectors, is therefore another key issue that needs to be satisfactorily resolved for FC/ASW to succeed.

Despite these questions, we believe that both Governments have every interest in working together to find a solution ensuring successful implementation of a programme that has significant and mutual benefits for both our two countries.

  • At an operational level, the implementation of the FC/ASW programme will help to ensure that our freedom of action is maintained, the importance of which was demonstrated during Operation Hamilton in Syria in April 2018. We believe that this operational sovereignty should be accompanied by the FC/ASW being fully interoperable with the systems available to our allies, in order to facilitate, where necessary, the conduct of joint operations.
  • Politically, the FC/ASW programme will considerably strengthen defence cooperation between France and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the programme could be opened to other European countries, thus strengthening our collective defence.
  • Industrially, this programme will maintain and develop the skills necessary for the continued success of our respective missile industries, as well as our wider defence industrial bases. It is worth remembering that the design and development of such complex weapons involves specialised skills bases that can take a long time to develop yet can be lost quickly.
  • Furthermore, from an economic and budgetary point of view, the sharing of the development and production costs of the future missile, as well as the export opportunities, will alleviate the financial burden of such an ambitious programme.
  • Finally, as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, the FC/ASW programme offers an opportunity to demonstrate the growing strength of our bilateral defence cooperation.

There is therefore every reason to be optimistic about the ability of both countries to carry out this programme, and thus to continue building an ever more robust relationship between France and the United Kingdom.