FC/ASW program is in the interests of both France and the UK, report finds

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The UK and France have every interest in successfully completing the future cruise/anti-ship weapon (FC/ASW) program, the House of Commons Defence Committee and the Assemblée nationale’s Standing Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces said in a joint report.

The report 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 defense 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 FC/ASW program.

The program 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.

The joint inquiry 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 program to continue after 2020.

As explained, 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 prioritizing stealth or prioritizing hypervelocity. To date, the UK’s choices have focused more on stealth, while France has favored velocity. The ability to agree on a vector, or even a family of vectors, is another key issue that needs to be satisfactorily resolved for FC/ASW to succeed.

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”.

“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,” Julian Lewis, Chairman of the Defence Committee, commented.

“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,” he added.

“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,” Lewis concluded.

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