By the end of the decade, Britain and France will both field a stealthy subsonic land attack missile and a supersonic, highly manoeuvrable anti-ship missile.
The United Kingdom and France recently confirmed the launch of the preparation works for the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) programme, after the signature of a government agreement and associated contracts by the French Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) and the British Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S).
The ‘Future Cruise/Anti–Ship Weapon’ project was originally believed to be producing one missile able to strike ships and land targets but has now become two distinct missiles.
🚨 NEWS | Confirmation that the FC/ASW missile plan is now for two distinct missiles. A stealthy subsonic land attack missile and a supersonic, highly manoeuvrable anti-ship missile. Britain and France expected to field the missiles "at the end of the decade" say @byMBDA. pic.twitter.com/hFn3KGwZ4f
— George Allison (@geoallison) February 21, 2022
Eric Beranger, CEO of MBDA said:
“The FC/ASW programme is an example of the value of the ‘One MBDA’ integrated model. By combining technology, industrial capacity and funding across borders, we can deliver unique and advanced sovereign capabilities. Following the conclusion of the FC/ASW Concept Phase, the confirmation of the launch of these preparation works testifies the renewed confidence of our two countries towards MBDA.
The project will take advantage from our sustained French/UK Centres of Excellence. This reinforcement of MBDA’s portfolio of deep strike and anti-ship systems will allow MBDA to offer to our armed forces, whose satisfaction is our priority, a cutting-edge solution fitted to their requirements and adapted to all existing or future operational needs.”
Le Délégué général pour l’armement Joël Barre, le directeur 🇬🇧 @DefenceES & le PDG @byMBDA, ont lancé les travaux de préparation du futur missile antinavire et futur missile de croisière (FMAN-FMC) après signature d’un accord étatique et notification de contrats #NotreDéfense pic.twitter.com/Xbs1j6OO3u
— Direction générale de l'armement (@DGA) February 17, 2022
According to a statement from MBDA:
“These preparation works will focus on the co-ordinated development of a programme of next generation deep strike and heavy anti-ship weapons. It will assess two complementary missile concepts, expected to be fielded at the end of the decade: a subsonic low observable concept and a supersonic, highly manoeuvrable concept.
These concepts are to meet the requirements of France and the UK and will provide a game changing capability to overcome land-based and maritime threats, hardened targets and air defence systems, at very long ranges and in increasingly contested battlespace environments.”
What is the Future Cruise/Anti–Ship Weapon for?
The FC/ASW aims to replace Storm Shadow/SCALP air-launched cruise missile in operational service in the UK and France as well as Exocet anti-ship missile in France and Harpoon anti-ship missile in the UK.
In November the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, told the House of Commons Select Defence Committee that options for FC/ASW were still “being looked at” including potential hypersonic weapons.
“The path that we as a Navy want to go down is absolutely that—longer-range missiles from ships with land attack. To Mr Francois’s point earlier about whether that is in the programme, it is in the programme with money that has been allocated for the future cruise anti-ship weapon, but we are only on the cusp of an assessment phase with the French. We have not delineated that it is going to be weapon X, but we have the budget line that supports that approach.
The exciting thing for the Navy is that the more substantial money is in the longer-term line, with the ambition around the future cruise anti-ship weapon and the French partnership. That has got the money in the line, but I agree with you that if we are operating at the hypersonic level, there is a debate as to whether that is at the back end of this decade or the early 2030s.”
It was also stated recently by Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin that the total spend to date on Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon and associated activities by the Ministry of Defence is £95 million.
What about now?
The interim anti-ship missile would have filled the gap between Harpoon retiring and the ‘Future Cruise/Anti–Ship Weapon’ entering service.
I reported back in September that progress on the interim missile appeared to be slowing down, now we know why. First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said at a recent session of the Defence Select Committee.
“Harpoon is going out of service in 2023. We have a capability conversation: do we bring in a relatively modest surface-to-surface weapon—it does not have a very long range and it is not hypersonic—and, if so, how much does it cost? It might be as much as £250 million, just to allow us to have five sets for three ships. When would that be able to come in? It looks like the earliest would be 2026 or 2027.
We have paused what we call the interim surface-to-surface guided weapon programme to force us to say: we accept that there will be a gap as Harpoon comes to the end of its life, but we should reach out to hypersonic weapons and weapons that have plus-1,000 km range. Do we do that with our international partners? That is when you start to look at the future”
The Royal Navy want to gap this capability in the shorter term in order to afford a better solution in the longer term.