Encouraged by this, and on the initiative of their respective squadron leaders, French and British combat aircraft units' squadrons held a joint exercise in mid-October in which—for the first time—Rafales and Typhoons flew together as Blue forces, while Red comprised French Hawkeyes and Alpha Jets.
A few days later, the two-week Corsican Lion naval exercise was held in the Mediterranean to test the ability of British and French navies and marines to work together. They were based on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. A question mark now hangs over the feasibility of having a joint carrier strike group, because Britain's decision to equip its future aircraft carrier Prince of Wales with a ramp for F-35B Joint Strike Fighters rather than catapults means that France's naval Rafales will not be able to take off from it. (On the other hand, the U.K.'s alternative, the F-35C, would likely have been too heavy for the French carrier.)
The two nations are also cooperating on individual programs such as the Watchkeeper reconnaissance unmanned air vehicle (UAV), and have made progress on collaborating in the cyberdefense field.
Ambitions to collaborate on a medium-altitude, long-endurance (Male) UAV, and to blend the results of the French-led Neuron and U.K. Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle projects, have made less progress. In the case of a Male vehicle, German, British and French politics are entangled with competition from outside Europe. EADS tried to promote its Talarion design, but gave up the effort in early 2012. Dassault, meanwhile, has taken a two-track approach. In the medium term, it has formed the Voltigeur consortium with Israel Aerospace Industries to offer France a version of the Heron-TP, while working with BAE Systems on the Telemos project, based on the latter's twin-engine Mantis demonstrator. However, there is still no firmly identified or funded requirement.
On the UCAV side, the Lancaster House agreements led to a joint Dassault-BAE study of an operational vehicle to build on experience with the Neuron and Taranis. The two vehicles are closely similar. Both are blended wing-body “manta” configurations, they use the same engine and are intended to demonstrate autonomous search and semi-autonomous attack modes (that is, with an operator on the ground confirming the target and authorizing weapon release). Taranis is expected to fly within a few months of Neuron, which took to the air on Dec. 1.
The question is when, if ever, the U.K. and France will have the funds to develop Telemos, let alone a Neuron/Taranis-class vehicle. Both nations' tactical airpower funds are spoken for well into the next decade.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance could be an area for collaboration. With the deep U.K.-U.S. relationship on signals intelligence, it is not surprising that the U.K. chose the U.S. RC-135—named Airseeker—to replace the Nimrod R1. However, another gap problem—maritime surveillance—remains unresolved. After the Nimrod MRA4 was canceled in the Strategic Defense and Security Review of 2010, previously extant agreements with, among other nations, the U.S., Canada and Norway, have continued to fill the breach. “The idea that we—or, frankly, anybody—could afford to do this entirely on our own is one that I just do not think is realistic,” Nick Harvey, the Armed Forces minister, told the Defense Committee last May.
Nuclear issues continue to form a divide between the U.K. and France, but could intrude into European politics. Although nothing will be decided in 2013, an issue set to dominate the British psyche—and with considerable ramifications beyond the British Isles —is the question of Scottish independence. A referendum has been scheduled for the third quarter of 2014, and although polls at present suggest those campaigning for Scotland to leave the union will fail, there is plenty of time for the “no” lobby's lead to be overtaken.
The issue is of particular concern because of the questions it raises over the future of the U.K.'s nuclear deterrent. The Scottish National Party, which is likely to win an election in an independent Scotland, is avowedly anti-nuclear. Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland and SNP leader, has suggested that an independent Scotland would insist on the removal of the Trident missile system and submarines from its territory.
Although London is downplaying the issue—Defense Minister Philip Hammond told the BBC in late October that a “yes” vote in the referendum was not expected, and therefore no contingency planning was being made in Westminster regarding re-basing the Trident away from Scotland, it is clear that moving the Trident infrastructure is not a viable short-term option.