Britain just took over E.U. defense with newly signed treaty
Combined Joint Expeditionary Force – The tri-service CJEF will not be a standing force but be available ”at notice for bilateral, NATO, European Union, United Nations or other” operations. It is expected to include units from the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and Special Forces and when deployed would take its orders from one commander, either British or French. Combined land and air exercises will begin in 2011 with ”progress towards full capability in subsequent years”.
Aircraft Carriers – The UK will fit ”cat and trap” to its future aircraft carrier so that combat aircraft from each country can use each other’s carriers with the aim that at least one carrier will be available at all times. By the early 2020s that should allow the creation of a ”UK-French integrated carrier strike group”.
A400M – Final negotiations are under way to set up a shared maintenance contract with Airbus Military for maintenance of both countries’ fleets of A400Ms, and co-operation will be sought on training.
UAVs – Joint development of a new Medium Altitude Long Endurance combat unmanned air vehicle to come into service between 2015-2020 and longer term research into the next generation of such vehicles.
Missiles – a 10-year strategic plan for joint procurement of missiles;
Defence industry and research – Aims to cut 30% of the cost of complex weapons systems through a 10-year strategic plan including a single European prime contractor. This will act as a test for co-operation in other industrial sectors. Each country will spend a minimum of €50 million a year on research and technology in ten priority areas that range from satellite communications, UAVs, naval systems and missiles to simulation and electronic warfare.
Other initiatives include a cybersecurity framework, the development of a joint approach to mine detection and countermeasures and the possibility of France using ”spare capacity” in the UK future air-to-air refuelling fleet ”provided it is financially acceptable to both nations”.
A separate treaty in Nuclear weapons was also signed. According to this, a joint facility will be built at the existing Valduc research center in Burgundy, France to ”model performance of our nuclear warheads and materials to ensure long-term viability, security and safety”. It will be supported by a Joint Technology Development center at Aldermaston in the UK.
The Anglo-French accord announced today is big geopolitical news for a lot of reasons.
Operationally and technologically, a 50-year agreement creates the dominant military power in Europe and the natural leader of any European defense union. Britain and France are the only European nuclear powers, the only European nations with any plans to operate full-size aircraft carriers, a key element in any expeditionary force, and the only European builders of nuclear-powered vessels. MBDA and Thales are major defense contractors with both UK and French segments.
Culturally, the two nations have never been closer. Generations of adults have studied each others’ languages and the Eurotunnel has brought Paris closer to London than England’s own northern regions. In the process, a lot of the mistrust that slowed the UK’s entry into the Common Market (the EU’s predecessor) and that blocked the UK’s entry into the Euro system has evaporated.
In military terms, the two big issues are carriers and nuclear weapons.
Both nations have decided that carriers are a central part of their forces. The argument is simple: if you want to send an expeditionary force somewhere, even a small air force that might be hostile is a huge problem if there’s no carrier, because the warships covering your transports can’t see beyond the horizon, and antisubmarine warfare helicopters are sitting ducks outside the envelope of the escorts’ anti-air warfare systems.
Problem: you need two carriers to keep one available at all times, and neither the UK nor France can afford it. Sharing ships is a solution. Doing this required the UK to dump the F-35B for a conventional carrier aircraft. In the longer term, expect the UK and France to establish a common E-2 Hawkeye force (AEW&C was an unsolved problem for the STOVL ship). Also, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the French would decide, at some point, that the UK’s spare carrier is a better deal than the smaller and troublesome Charles de Gaulle.
The nuclear issue is fascinating. The UK continues to insist that it will retain its collaboration with the US and that its future SSBN will be developed alongside its US Navy equivalent. The result is that any nuclear-weapons collaboration between the UK and France will focus on warhead testing and stockpile management.
How does this affect the US-UK relationship? At a forum Monday in Washington organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the UK’s vice-chief of the defense staff, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton, was at pains to reassure US pundits and advisers that a UK-France deal “could only be a good thing” for the US. “There was a period of time when a UK-France entente would be seen as destabilising to US-UK relations, but we have matured a long way beyond that.” What happened, he said, was that “in the process of the SDSR, France and the UK looked at each other and said ‘we need to talk’.”