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”.
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."
Image: Ministry of Defence