This week’s agreement between France and the U.K. to cooperate more closely on defense matters could be seen as an important step to strengthen European defense, but is it really?
While the Paris-London axis certainly has been strengthened, the series of announcements raise the question of whether, in their zeal to do more together, other European allies are being left on the outside looking in.
That is particularly true in the realm of unmanned air systems.
A case in point is the commitment by France and Paris to potentially cooperate on unmanned combat air vehicles. The agreement suggests that once France winds up the current phase of the Neuron demonstrator in the next few years, and the U.K. completes initial work on Taranis, the two will start working together.
But where does that leave Italy and Sweden? The two are major partners on the current Neuron phase, and probably would have had a key role on a further technology iteration. Whether that remains open is not clear.
Italy, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland -- the other Neuron partners -- may be brought into the fold, but British and French defense procurement officials also have indicated they have tired of unwieldy, multi-national European programs (such as the Airbus Military A400M) and would prefer to work bilaterally, so the others may be left looking for their own way to get to an operational UCAV.
A similar situation appears to be playing out with the nearer-term Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (Male) unmanned aircraft project. Germany was trying to interest France and Spain in the EADS Talarion unmanned aircraft concept. That avenue has now basically closed. Furthermore, Spain also had shown interest in a collaborative Male activity.
Paris and London may yet find ways to bring their allies under their UAS umbrella, but that could complicate industrial relations and program management, and set the new, high-profile efforts on a road of requirements quibbling and delays that have become emblematic of European cooperative defense projects.