Launch of work on future Franco-British cruise and anti-ship missiles
Launch of work on future Franco-British cruise and anti-ship missiles

| Gaétan Powis | Source : Air&Cosmos 586 mots

Launch of work on future Franco-British cruise and anti-ship missiles

France and the United Kingdom signed an agreement yesterday with MBDA to launch work on the future anti-ship missile (FMAN) and the future cruise missile (FMC).

Two new missiles for France and the United Kingdom

On 2 November 2010, France and the United Kingdom signed the Lancaster House agreements. These agreements cover many points, including a bi-national desire to reduce the costs (about 30%) of development and investment in the missile sector. The joint missile project officially appeared in March 2017 when a binational agreement was signed between Harriett Baldwin (Defense Procurement) and Laurent Collet-Billon (Directorate General of Armaments). The agreement, budgeted at €100 million (shared equally between the two countries), allows the launch of a three-year study to develop an anti-ship missile (Future Anti-Ship Missile, FMAN) and a cruise missile (Future Cruise Missile, FMC).

These two missiles are to replace several missiles currently in service:

  • the Exocet anti-ship missile in France,
  • the Harpoon anti-ship missile in the United Kingdom,
  • the SCALP EG/Storm Shadow cruise missile in France and the United Kingdom.

The FMAN will be supersonic in contrast to the FMC, which will be subsonic and stealth. This last characteristic is explained by the complementarity of the two missiles: apart from its capacity to destroy ships, the FMAN will be able to be used during first entry missions: destruction of enemy air defences or destruction of ground-to-sea batteries. Once the defenses are destroyed, the FMC will be able to process its target without danger of being intercepted.

Le missile
The FMAN (left) and the FMC (right). © MBDA UK
Le missile

A deal fraught with pitfalls...

In recent years, Franco-British cooperation has suffered many setbacks. These include the development of two competing sixth-generation fighter jets or the Brexit crisis. On the other hand, despite these various crises, the willingness of the two countries to develop these two missiles together has remained intact. 

However, while the UK and France are in the midst of a crisis related to the cancellation of the Australian submarine contract, the FMAN/FMC project seems to be affected, with France deciding to cancel an important meeting scheduled for September 2021 in retaliation.

However, relations seem to be back on track. Yesterday's signing of the agreement between the United Kingdom, France and MBDA will thus allow MBDA to begin preparations for the two future missiles.

...but very important!

In 2018, a binational parliamentary report (available at the end of this article) demonstrated the need for France and the United Kingdom to be able to respond to the proliferation of denial-of-access and area-denial (A2/AD) equipment: since the end of the Cold War, technological advances had allowed some freedom of movement for Western forces. The situation is changing in the mid-2010s as technological advances are being reduced by R&R and investment on the Russian and Chinese sides. A very concrete example of the proliferation of A2/AD systems can be found in the S-300 and S-400, directly mentioned in the report.

The report also states that the changing environment does not yet prevent France and the United Kingdom from destroying well-protected targets, but it must do so provided that it shoots from very close range (thanks to the recent French Barracuda submarines), acts by surprise, or saturates enemy defenses. However, by 2030, the report estimates that the SCALP, Harpoon and Exocet missiles will be totally obsolete in the face of systems currently being developed in China and Russia. They will therefore have to be replaced at that time by the FMAN and FMC.

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