On 3rd February this year the British MoD published a 'Green Paper' of 52 pages entitled 'Adaptability and Partnership : Issues for the Strategic Defence Review'. It was a preamble to the SDR (Strategic Defence Review) that lays down the foundations regarding the evolution of the Defence issues of the United Kingdom, the reform of the Armed Forces and the
evolution of the acquisition programmes for the coming years. There, one will specially notice that a discrete call for a larger cooperation with France in the introduction of the document, was relayed by the Financial Times to the point of making its headlines on the same day relating a British call for an 'entente cordiale de la défense ' (in French in the text).
Several subjects are in fact dealt with in this working document but we will only address some of the main British acquisition programmes, on which the Financial Times particularly insists, even going further than the comments of the authors of the 'Green Paper' ! The 3 Armies are liable of being submitted once again to a high level of budgetary restrictions. Whilst the Home Fleet has already undergone the affront of being overtaken (in terms of the number of platforms) by the French Navy, two of its major programmes should be highly impacted : that of its missile launcher submarines (4 nuclear submarines (SSBN) are programmed for roughly 23 billion euros) and that of its aircraft carriers (2 programmed units for an amount close to 5 billion euros). As concerns aircraft, the Navy will also be impacted with an important decrease of the number of F35 JSF (whose number should fall from 150 to 66, which is hardly a scoop). The Royal Air Force will also see the number of its Typhoons decrease: 112 were scheduled for more than 10 billion euros. Lastly, the Army once again sees its armoured vehicle acquisition programmes questioned (a budget of more than 18 billion euros was necessary for the realisation of its programmes, starting with FRES for which only the SCOUT programme was to be the subject of a coming order at that time). The reduction of envelopes and lead times should generate an economy of 20 to 25 billion euros in the next decade according to our analysis. The backlash will be the higher unit cost of the platforms and of the maintenance.
The search with synergy with France is presented as an economy lever, thanks to the implementation of grouped orders and even of pools to manage certain equipment (transport aircraft, drones) to the benefit of the Forces of both countries, and to higher level of specialisation (with the recurrent example of a task force uniting the French aircraft carrier and a British escort). Indeed, the Iraqi conflict had put a brake on the cooperation efforts launched in 1998 by Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair. The financial crisis now puts common ambitions on the front stage with a higher degree of pragmatism in terms of cooperation, codevelopment and engagement, with a budgetary stake being, now more than ever, in the first and foremost line of sight.
In this respect, the FRES Scout programme is interesting. For several years now, the French Delegation for Armament (DGA) estimates that the EBRC programme (technologically advanced and highly armed and protected front line wheeled reconnaissance vehicle) could be produced in cooperation with the British that are described as having a programme with
similar ambitions. However, whilst the French reports mention a possible synergy, the British were drafting a short term purchase of a heavy tracked vehicle armed with a 40 mm CTAI turret that was just recently materialised via the FCS SCOUT). Can one believe that, for the last five years, between both parties, no exchange took place due to the incompatibility of the programmes and expressions of needs from both sides of the Channel! But how can one imagine just for an instant the DGA abandoning its wheeled vehicle project to fall back on an off-the-shelf wheeled vehicle (ASCOD by General Dynamics ELS for example) ?
Inversely, on the British side, the acquisition by the Army of the VBCI by Nexter for its 'FCS Future Utility Vehicle' programme seems more than unlikely. Whilst 'give and take' would enable to satisfy both requirements and both parties at a reduced cost; this appears like blind man's bluff and every man for himself. The consequences of which, clearly underlined by the British report, are the financial load for the tax payer, the explosion of programme costs and the insufferable lead times imposed upon the Armed Forces. Remember, in France, the EBRC is more than 15 years late on the initial projects. As for FRES, this record may be surpassed, to the point where many 'Urgent Operational Requirements' (UOR) passed by the MoD had to be initiated to overcome the gaps in equipment for the deployed troops and the deficiencies of some equipment (including armoured vehicles sometimes more than 40 years old totally inadequate for service). These UOR therefore represented more than 5.5 billion pounds sterling in urgent equipment purchases since the beginning of the operations in Afghanistan. Whilst these UOR are presented as an innovative solution to respond to the needs of the British Forces deployed in operation, one will not be able to neglect the fact that they are also the consequence of the weakness of the acquisition budgets and of the difficulty for the institutions to 'programme' when faced with versatile intervention contexts and stakes.
Source : NEWSLETTER ARTEM MAI 2010 GB