MBDA and FCAS: The Brexit Challenge

By Pierre Tran

Paris – MBDA is in talks with Airbus and Dassault Aviation in the concept study for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), Antoine Bouvier, CEO of the European missile maker, said March 19.

MBDA’s French and German units are in the discussions on contributing to the study, Bouvier told a news conference on the 2018 financial results.

Airbus and Dassault are the lead partners in FCAS, a European project backed by France and Germany to design and build a new fighter jet and airborne systems, all hooked up to a communications network. The fighter will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale.

Remote carriers based on the MBDA Smart Glider concept — a guided bomb to saturate enemy defenses — are among the potential elements, he said.

Another potential MBDA weapon for FCAS would be a cruise missile, a successor to the French Scalp weapon, an MBDA executive said. That next-generation, long-range missile could be based on work done on the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW), an Anglo-French cooperative project.

Separately, MBDA has completed its key review for FC/ASW, which is in a concept phase and backed by the UK’s Defence Equipment and Support and France’s Direction Générale de l’Armement, the company said in a statement.

“The conclusion of this key review makes it possible to select the most promising missile concepts in order to meet the requirements expressed by both nations’ armed forces,” MBDA said.

This allows more in-depth studies to be done on these concepts, with solutions to be selected at the end of the concept phase in 2020, the company said. The British and French requirement is for long range anti-ship missiles, suppression of enemy air defense and deep strike.

The study seeks to allow a drafting of “the road maps for maturing the technologies required, and to launch any follow on assessment phase,” the company said. Development and production are due around 2024, allowing replacement of present weapons on an agreed schedule.

There would be separate weapons for the cruise missile and the anti-ship mission.

On the issue of US denial of export clearance for components on the Scalp missile sold to Egypt and Qatar, Bouvier said there was no longer a problem.

“This is a government-to-government affair,” he said. “I leave it up to the government to pursue its discussions. For us, the problem is behind us.

“Certain actions were taken, decisions taken, initiatives taken so that today there are no particular problems,” he said, declining to give further details.

The US authorities, under the international traffic in arms regulations, blocked the sale of  components for French cruise missiles to arm Rafale fighters ordered by Egypt and Qatar.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly has previously said it was impossible to be fully independent but there was a plan to cut that dependence.

Germany is due to decide by the end of the month whether to renew a unilateral embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, an MBDA executive said.

That decision is critical to the delivery of MBDA Meteor long range missiles, ordered to arm  Eurofighter Typhoons from the UK. That fighter deal was worth £10 billion ($13.3 billion).

Two German MBDA subsidiaries, Bayern Chemie and TDW, build respectively the ramjet and warhead for Meteor, and production has continued since Berlin announced the sanction  in January 2019. The Meteor is assembled in a British factory, just north of London.

Germany extended its embargo to the end of March in response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials last October.

The sanction also reflects Berlin’s disapproval of Saudi Arabia leading a coalition fighting  the Iran-backed Houthis rebels in Yemen.

On Brexit, the planned departure of the UK from the European Union, there may be little  concern in the short term, but in the long term there is potential isolation as Europe moves toward greater defense cooperation.

There is doubt whether Britain will be eligible for access to the planned European Defense Fund, which will help finance research and development.

MBDA UK is a significant business, building Meteor, Aster and Storm Shadow weapons.

Britain and France are cooperating on technology studies under the joint Future Combat Air System-Development Program.

London and Paris pledged €100 million for the FC/ASW project, launched in 2017 and set to run for three years.

That project is split 50/50.

MBDA is jointly owned by Airbus (37.5 percent), BAE Systems (37.5 percent), and Leonardo (25 percent).

The French Shape an Evolutionary Approach to Their Future Combat Air System