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.”

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Mr J Bell

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?

Sceptical Richard

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.


(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… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »

S Daniels

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… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »


(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… Read more »

Alan Reid

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… Read more »

Joe B

Finally, someone else who is woke on the French problem

John Clark

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… Read more »

Alan Reid

“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 ………………..


Great news. Hopefully we can continue to become closer allies with the French.


We no doubt will, until we need them then they will become one of the most distant allies possible.

Joe B

Allies and French do not go together, I weep for your sense of reality

Nigel Collins

It’s time we stopped living in a dream and woke up.


(Chris H) Nigel Collins – So what dream is that then?

Nigel Collins

That we can fully trust our European “partners” in future, particularly the French and the Germans.


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!!

Daniele Mandelli

“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… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Agree S.R!

Agincourt, whatever it is called, will be a fine addition to the fleet!

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »


(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… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »


(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… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

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… Read more »