Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and French Minister of the Armed Forces Mme Florence Parly today held the first Defence Ministerial Council since the announcement of a permanent and regular forum for the discussion of UK-France defence cooperation in January 2018.

According to the MoD, during the meeting a bespoke technical arrangement which will oversee the exchange of test pilots between the two nations was signed.

“The agreement formalises an exchange enabling French pilots to train at the UK Empire Test Pilots’ School based at MOD Boscombe Down, and British pilots to train at the French Test Pilots’ School, Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception based on the Istres Le Tube Airbase.

This reciprocal exchange of personnel ensures that the skills of military flight test, analysis and capability enhancement are shared between the Armed Forces of UK and France, further strengthening the UK’s relationship with France and building on the strong partnership between our armed forces.”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“France is one of our most important allies and this agreement symbolises the importance of deep defence and security relationships. By participating in this exchange programme, we will strengthen understanding between our personnel.

We are the only two European powers willing and able to deploy and sustain significant military power and we will continue to work towards a special partnership for the future.”

The UK and France have successfully carried out the second development firing of the Sea Venom missile which will equip the Royal Navy and French Navy helicopters to prosecute a wide range of surface threats, from fast inshore attack craft up to corvette-sized vessels, including in coastal environments. Sea Venom has both ‘fire and forget’ mode as well as a ‘man in the loop’ capability, which allows full missile control until target impact.

French and British Armed Forces operate alongside each other in NATO, including as part of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia. The UK and France have been fighting Daesh together in Iraq and Syria, and last month launched coordinated strikes against Syrian regime chemical weapons stocks.

A government press release said:

“The UK and French navies work together around the globe to uphold freedom of navigation and the laws of the sea, with UK personnel currently taking part in France’s Jeanne d’Arc naval deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, and are building on work last year to increase coordination of hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean.

We are also developing cutting-edge defence capability projects together and deepening links across our Armed Forces, vital actions as both the UK’s National Security Capability Review and last year’s French Strategic Review of Defence and National Security described a world of rising instability and unpredictability – which is why we are conducting the Modernising Defence Programme to make sure we are configured to address the intensifying and complex threats that we are our allies now face.”


  1. I was not aware that the French are getting Sea Venom as well. Have they contributed towards its development costs?
    Are we selling it to them or other way around?
    Just trying to work out whose economy will gain from this?

    • Mr J Bell, it’s a joint development programme, co-funded and led by MBDA, which as you know, is a join venture between Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo. But I think only the U.K. and French bits of the company have participated in the development.

  2. (Chris H) …and all the while the French are taking our UCAV and drone developments and technologies to share with Airbus and German industry and encouraging the EU to dismiss the UK from Galileo satellite systems in which we are the leading technology and funding providers because we are ‘untrustworthy’?

    All this bullshit about ‘co-operation’ is insulting. It frankly makes me quite angry. Lets just accept the French will shaft us over UCAV just like they shafted us over early Tornado, Typhoon and the carriers, move on on our own and treat them and the EU with the utter contempt they deserve.

    Past experience tells me the French can’t teach us too much about pilot training as the UK Empire Test Pilots School is world renowned and takes students from all over the world already. Who has ever heard of the “Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception” exactly? Once again we are entering into a deal where we are giving more away than we get out of it. Surely if we have an edge in something military we should keep it to ourselves?

    • Most French people will have not heard about the ETPS either. But those who know anything about aviation and it’s history on both sides of the channel will have heard about both. Istres has been a famous aviation test centre as long as I care to remember and also takes pilots from around the world. It’s important that we maintain close cooperation across a number of fields with our closest allies.

      • (Chris H) My reference was a passing remark among many points and I am not sure someone’s ‘knowledge of aviation’ is necessarily discredited by knowledge of pilot training schools or otherwise.

        I agree we need to maintain and improve relations with our closest (for which I assume you mean trusted) Allies. But can you explain where exactly the French have proved they are worthy of that label for over 30 years? Early Tornado, Typhoon, Carriers, UCAV and even their reneging on A400M which has an effect on Airbus wingmaking in the UK does not engender any ‘trust’ for the French in me. And given they are already ‘out on manoeuvres’ trying to forcie out the biggest contributor, operator and funder to the Galileo Project (the UK) for the benefit of their own industries as well as other political efforts I am not so sure they even qualify as ‘allies’ let alone ‘trusted’. I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw any of them but that is a personal view created over years of working with and around them but what do I know? … Trust has to be earned its not a given because we are close neighbours.

        • I wouldn’t and don’t trust the French either though I have a certain respect for their clear eyed pursuit of their National interest.

          The thing to say in their favour is they don’t have the Special Relationship. They don’t realistically have the fallback option of buying American if the project doesn’t work – linguistic and political differences. So every project needs to be a French winner. They pick other people’s brains up to a point then go off on their own, they also don’t waste time on technological flights of fancy like TSR2 ie they work within their limitations. Their nuclear subs are half the size of an Astute.

          It will be interesting to watch the Franco German fighter emerge, with the Germans put up with it.

        • Chris, if you are going to make accusations at least get your facts right. If it wasn’t for the French the A400M programme would have not happened. The Germans wanted to go down the An-70 route. Italy pulled out. It was France who rescued the programme and got the U.K. and Germany to back it. Yes, with programmes such as Jaguar and Lynx the British can feel somewhat let down in turns of export support, but I don’t think you can blame the French for favouring their own industry. Blame successive British governments for not supporting ours! But it is France who on several occasions torpedoed German attempts at getting Airbus wing technology transferred from Britain to Germany. I view the whole Galileo issue as a negotiating prop – a tough but somewhat unreasonable posture to be given away in return for a concession from our side on something else. Personally, I think France is a trusted ally to us, probably even more than we are to them as, unfortunately, we have a habit of doing the bidding of the US when push comes to shove.

          • (Chris H) SR – So what accusations did I make that are not factual? The French argued for the A400M to get workshare. Its what they do all the time Richard. And then what they do is renege on agreements. Like the Germans do. So while we have taken or will have taken every one of the A400M aircraft we ordered both the French and Germans are ‘creating issues’ wiuth it and avoiding their obligations. While not losing workshare. History is a good teacher Richard go look at the projects I listed.

            Now I didn’t mention Lynx or Jaguar but as you have Jaguar was an excellent project that delivered some 540 aircraft, France took all it ordered (but still managed to walk away from a carrier variant like it did with Typhoon) and it was sold to 6 different armed forces but we were engaged with Breguet not the French Government controlled Dassault to create ‘SEPECAT’. Now I am glad you reminded us of the Lynx programme. You just proved my point of how duplicitous (again) the French are. Lynx was an entirely British development. A deal was done with the French for them to have 30% workshare (that magic word) and for the UK to buy Gazelle and Puma aircraft. We of course kept our word and bought Gazelle and Puma but what did the French do? Oh the French Army (the biggest buyer outside the UK) cancelled out and Aerospatiale walked away. But at least the French Navy bought 25. Big deal.

            And no exports? over 450 Lynx built and it served with 18 armed forces. Probably one of the widest sold aircraft since WWII in numbers of countries buying it.

            So basically the only two aircraft we successfully delivered with the French were Concorde and Jaguar … as for the rest?

            Maybe you should check your facts before accusing others and providing the facts that prove their point rather than your own.

          • Hi Chris, You make some good points, and I’m not unfamiliar with the history which you so passionately detail. Agreed – the French are difficult industrial partners!

            Much of the bad-blood which you outline was in the context of the 1970-80s when confidence of French aerospace (especially Dassault) was somewhat bullish through the export sales of the Mirage family. But more recent history suggests Rafale has been a costly mistake, and French industry has delivered a somewhat inferior and expensive alternative to the Eurofighter consortium, and one which is struggling to replicate the significant export success of earlier products. The industrial nationalism of the French may no longer be in their own long-term interests.

            If the UK is to maintain an independent aerospace industry, with advanced design capabilities, evidence suggests the successful euro-collaborative models of Sepecat, Panavia and Eurofighter may still be the way forward. Being junior partners of the USA (like in the F35 project) is not in our long-term industrial interests.

            Personally, I would prefer we continued our long-term relationship with the Germans and the Italians – but it’s unclear what real appetite there is in Berlin to fund a major new combat jet.

            In summary, whatever the reservations – to maintain an independent military aerospace capability, I think the UK and France needs each other! Only by pooling resources can they achieve a long production run, with the resultant economies of scale, plus cost burden-sharing, and the political and industrial resilience to see a project successfully through to a conclusion. And I believe Richard’s sentiments are well-judged, our politicians should continue to cultivate a new defence relationship with the French government.

      • In the interest if fairness, addressing Alan’s comments regarding the Rafael, I wouldn’t say its inferior to Typhoon, it simply a different aircraft with a greater emphasis on AG rather than AA.
        The Rafael’s major issue lies in its compromised Carrier capability design, this added unnessasary structural weight and limited its overall size.

        They should have stayed in the then embryonic Eurofigher program and bought the F18 for their Navy.

        Had that happened then just maybe today we would have had a world beating strong pan European fighter design house that could have now been working on a 5 Gen European solution.

        Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be, the French stormed out and history took a different path.

        Our defence future now lays in cooperation, not with Europe, but the wider world.

        • “Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be, the French stormed out and history took a different path”.

          Emotive use of language, John
          My recollection is the French didn’t “storm out” of the Eurofighter negotiations. Essentially, the British said to their potential partners – this is the specification of the aircraft we want to build, join us if you agree ……

          The Germans, Italians and Spanish signed-up. The French didn’t believe in the project, and did their own thing ……..

          The rest, as you say, is history ………………..

  3. That we cannot trust the French in any deal we sign as they will pull the plug whenever it suits them. Renege. One of my favourite French words. And they call us perfidious Albion. Sacre bleu!!

  4. “described a world of rising instability and unpredictability – which is why we are conducting the Modernising Defence Programme to make sure we are configured to address the intensifying and complex threats that we are our allies now face.”

    Same old language.

    Throw in a few fancy kit purchases, mention lots of extra funding for Cyber and for UKSF which by their very nature are unverifiable, and make a whole raft of cuts in the process.

    Sceptical me? Yep. Hope to be very wrong of course but I have seen this piffle language in just about every Defence review since Options For Change in 1991.

    As for this exchange program, well we have exchanges in all sort of posts why such as fuss over Test Pilots? Our ETPS is world renowned already, one of the top 4 Test Pilots Schools, along with the French, USAF and USN examples.

    But it suits the political narrative at being all loved up with the French.

    • Welcome to the Sceptical club Daniele! Options for Change was indeed the beginning of the rot. For me the tipping point was the quiet, almost hidden withdrawal of Sea Eagle from service in 2000. This effectively meant the abandonment of airborne ASuV capability for Britain (doubt whether U.K. Poseidon’s will carry Harpoon?). This in turn led to the eventual demise of the Sea Harrier and the RAF effectively commandeering the on board real estate to effectively turn our carriers into mobile RAF air stations. Everything else you say is true as well, although I am less sceptical about collaboration with France – collaboration with any ally who is willing to put skin in the game is vital. Making political capital out of it is cynical but inevitable. All politicians do it. However, let’s at least rejoice in the funding for Agincourt!

  5. Chris, I must take issue with you. The French did not walk away from their A400M commitments. They also allowed the Brits to lead most of the commercial negotiations (although the programme manager on the government side was German – I was in charge on the industry side). It was the Germans who walked away from their commitments while attempting to retain their work share. Britain tracked all these movements and adjusted their aircraft buy accordingly (from 25 to 22) to ensure the 12% workshare that under the Airbus system guarantees the work on the wings. France adhered to their 50 aircraft buy. I know Lynx has been very successful (I led the sale to Brazil when I worked for Westland) but what I meant is that Aerospatiale competed with us all the time with Dauphine while we had nothing to offer against Puma or Gazelle. But that’s largely because HMG never really stood behind westland’s attempted development of a Puma replacement, preferring instead to allow Westland to be bought by Sikorsky (failed), then GKN and finally Agusta. Jaguar was the same. Yes we sold a few, but the French government put its full weight behind Dassault’s Mirage III and F-1, which were far more successful. Apart from these cases and programmes where the French clearly had a different requirement, I’ve always found them to be a reliable partner. More so than the Germans or Italians. This is also proving to be the case on the complex weapons front and their partnership through MBDA, Storm Shadow and Sea Venom being two examples.

    • (Chris H) – Richard you have somewhat shifted your stance over Lynx and proved my point about French Government support (or use of) Dassault. So that seems a bit of a waste of time.
      As regards your comments about the A400M I will just add some sales numbers from Airbus to prove my point:
      UK: Orders – 22 Delivered – 19 Ratio – 82%

      France: Orders – 50 Delivered – 14 Ratio – 28%

      Germany: Orders – 53 Delivered – 18 Ratio – 34%

      If they were keen on buying it the ratios would be far more even given the steady state of the production line. The UK is the biggest operator of the A400M and my understanding is the RAF are very pleased with what it is achieving. So there is no fault with the aircraft. So one has to ask why are the French and Germans reneging on their orders? Why are they trying to ‘lay off’ ordered aircraft?

      Some more cynical (or sceptical) than me might say that history is just repeating itself where workshare is ‘bought’ with orders and then they bale out …. The list of the French doing this is long:
      Naval Jaguar, Lynx, early Tornado, Typhoon, A400M, carriers.

      Once is a forgivable mistake but 6 times shows a basic unreliability as partners let alone allies.

      • Chris, don’t confuse orders with deliveries. Nobody is reneging on their orders at the moment. If anyone will in future, it might be the Germans not the French. U.K. orders were front-loaded. That’s why they’ve already had delivery of most of their aircraft. The aircraft has its problems and Airbus is way behind on deliveries, but you’re right, the RAF like the aircraft and the problems are being corrected. I think I should know, I was the A400M Commercial Director for eight years, Head of Customer Services for five, and Head of A400M U.K. Programme for five. The French are tricky but reliable and loyal partners.

        • (Chris H) Richard – I have to accept what you say and if true well done on producing a world beating freighter in the A400M. But its interesting you keep focusing on one arrangement and quietly ignore the long string of projects where the French have screwed us. So I am mystified why you maintain that the French are in any way reliable commercial partners or indeed allies. They look after their own interests entirely and screw other nations without a second thought. Which I actually admire in some ways but it doesn’t mean we should in any way trust them. As I keep repeating – History tells us differently

          • Chris, I can only speak from personal experience – my time in British Aerospace, Westland Helicopters and Airbus. Yes, the French look after their own interests. I don’t blame them for that. And when our interests coincide, they are reliable and stalwart partners. When they don’t, they go their own way. We should be the same. But I don’t think it’s right to allow these issues to degenerate into a national phobia or bias. I don’t think it’s helpful. Believe me, cause I know, the Americans will screw you just as quickly and easily when it’s in their interest to do so! The calamity is when your own bloody government does it as well!


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