The jointly developed anti-ship missile will replace Harpoon in British service and Exocet in French service.
According to a statement released by the Ministry of Defence, this move builds on commitments made in the Lancaster House Treaty.
Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin and her French counterpart Laurent Collet-Billon signed an agreement to enable the next phase of the programme to begin.
Délégué Général pour l’Armement, Laurent Collet-Billon said:
“The documents that we signed today are concrete evidence of the strong links that bind France and the United Kingdom in the armament field. By signing these new agreements, we have set the momentum for the coming months.
I sincerely thank the French and British teams for the huge amount of work that has led to this achievement. Several major milestones within our equipment cooperation await us in 2017 and we will work just as hard to pass them.
I am specifically thinking about the FC/ASW programme conception phase contract award in March 2017 and the launch of the FCAS programme demonstration phase at the end of the year.”
Earlier in 2016 at the UK-France Security Summit, the two parties pledged to work on a “joint concept phase for the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) programme to identify solutions for replacement of the Scalp/Storm Shadow missiles for both countries, Harpoon for the UK and Exocet for France.”
According to a joint statement issued regarding the summit, a cruise missile will also be developed:
“Since the last Summit, significant milestones have been reached on Collaborative weapons projects: on the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) / Anti Navire Léger programme, a joint contract for the £500m (€600m) worth Development and Manufacturing phase was signed in March 2014 ; on the SCALP / Storm Shadow Capability Enhancement Programme, a 2-year Design Phase was launched in July 2014 ; there has also been extensive information exchanges in 2015 and building of understanding on portfolio opportunities.
Besides, other key cooperative missile activities will be extended further in 2016, such as the sustainment of our Aster missiles stockpiles and the shared-studied enhancement of our SCALP / Storm Shadow capability. We signed today a SoI confirming our intent to enter into a joint concept phase for the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) programme to identify solutions for replacement of the Scalp/Storm Shadow missiles for both countries, Harpoon for the UK and Exocet for France. Any Concept Phase would seek to inform by 2020 decisions concerning a potential follow-on Assessment Phase.
We are working with the objective to sign arrangement for this Concept Phase for the end of 2016, to pave the way for possible contracts by March 2017.”
The decision to launch a joint concept phase for the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) programme is listed by MBDA as a “solid prospect” for the future growth of the company.
MBDA previously showcased CVS401 Perseus for this role (pictured above), Perseus is a supersonic cruise missile, being developed “in consultation with the Royal Navy and French Navy”. The weapon was first unveiled at the 2011 Paris Air Show.
The defence company describes the missile as a “Unique multi-role, multi-Platform weapon system to be integrated on all major weapon platforms such as; warships, submarines, aircraft and land-based platforms.”
The missile showcased by MBDA reportedly has a range of 300km and can reach speeds of Mach 3 however at this stage, it’s just a concept.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin said:
“This innovative project further strengthens the UK-French defence relationship and supports innovative research on both sides of the Channel.
In an uncertain world, working with international partners and allies is more important than ever and I am delighted that our teams, working with British and French industry partners, are making good progress on these ambitious bilateral programmes.”
While this news is welcome, it does not address the significant gap the retirement of Harpoon will cause. The Royal Navy will lose its anti-ship missile capability in 2018 when the Harpoon missile is withdrawn.
While the fleet will still have an anti-ship capability via the submarine fleet and embarked helicopters, this will still be a significant capability gap.
Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade.
According to the Telegraph, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry, said:
“It’s a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting.”
Former First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead said:
“This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe.We will have this gap of several years without missiles. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have to fight anybody in the meantime.”
Many however describe Harpoon as totally inadequate for anti-surface warfare in today’s environment, many however also argue that it’s a useful capability and in the words of a Royal Navy officer we spoke to this morning ‘better than nothing’.