European aerospace industry: UK-France vision of its future

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.


Good afternoon messieurs et dames, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you [Laurent Collet-Billon] for that kind introduction.

My visit to Bordeaux this week has been a great chance to catch up with friends and colleagues.

I am especially pleased to see some familiar faces here and some new ones from industry especially from this side of the Channel. Some of you may well have attended the Anglo-French Industry day last July.

Working together, at every level, ministers, chiefs, officials and industry, means we are developing a very real understanding at every level.

An understanding of our mutual priorities.

As well as a commitment to continue to explore areas of potential collaboration.

In Britain, we spend around 40% of our defence budget every year, or around £13 billion, on equipment acquisition, support and technology.

Engagement with industry is at the heart of our defence posture.

Yesterday’s High Level Working Group was an opportunity to review our progress on the growing number of areas in which we are now collaborating.

The portfolio of Franco-British programmes sets out to deliver a wide range of capabilities.

To some extent we are drawing on each others strengths. And aiming to avoid duplicating capabilities where we don’t need to.

The treaty also makes clear the need to improve access to each other’s markets, and to explore new opportunities to become available to both sets of industries.

This week has also provided a welcome opportunity to visit an area which is home to a world leading aviation sector.

There really is no substitute for getting out on site and visiting industry at work. When Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, perhaps he was referring to the industry shop floor.

My trips to EADS, Thales and Dassault Aviation yesterday afternoon were fascinating. This has proved to be a highly informative, productive and enjoyable visit on a number of levels.

My hosts have also very kindly given me the opportunity to learn about Bordeaux’s other world famous and rather more historic industry. I am of course referring here to your fabulous wine.

UK-France Defence Co-operation Treaty and why it matters

And I have been reminded, as I so often am these days, that we are natural partners, who share similar aspirations and budgets.

Today I want to talk to you briefly about this defence partnership. About why it matters, and about what it means for your sector, aerospace.

To me, last year’s operations in Libya really did show once and for all that when it comes to defence the UK and France are, in the words of President Sarkozy, the ‘heavy lifters’ of Europe.

Operation Unified Protector showed the world that we have assets we can and will deploy.

And we do that, I believe, because we share the same values and global interests.

We have the same responsibilities. As members of the UN Security Council. And as leaders in the EU and Nato.

When it comes to our financial commitment to defence, I believe the facts speak for themselves.

Together France and the UK account for nearly half of Europe’s defence spending.

Co-operation means we can make this money go a lot further. It means boosting capabilities. Ensuring interoperability, and working to each others strengths and sustaining world leading defence industries.

It means we can look to exploit economies of scale by buying or developing equipment with France. Or sharing facilities.

These are opportunities that we must continue to explore.

In these tough times, as our Defence Secretary recently said, there can be no security without economic stability.

For us in the UK co-operation also means saving money for our hard pressed tax payers as we work hard to make sure our defence equipment programme is affordable.

This week’s NDI Conference, UK-France Treaty: SME opportunities

And co-operation brings opportunities for those of you here from industry.

I know that many of you here today are from SMEs. Welcome to you all. You are a sector we in the UK are very keen to encourage.

We want to open up defence as a market and make the MOD a more accessible customer.

Earlier this week I attended the annual conference of the NDI one of the UK’s leading defence industry organisations, with a membership of over 200 companies.

I was delighted to see that an important part of the conference was dedicated to discussing opportunities for Small and medium sized enterprises, known as SMEs, offered by the UK-France Defence Co-operation Treaty. You are businesses which we in the UK are keen to encourage.

I was particularly pleased to see that the French Ambassador to the UK spoke at the conference with passion and persuasiveness, of the importance of Franco-British cooperation, and the fact that the relationship will endure.

I commend this kind of initiative. Enhanced Franco-British cooperation offers just as great opportunities for SMEs, particularly on the supply chain side, as it does for primes.

And that’s because SMEs bring innovation and agility.

We in the UK have seen that special added value when it comes to getting urgent operational requirements out to our Forces on the front line in Afghanistan.

SMEs have played and continue to play, an important role in this.

UAS (Unmanned Air Systems)

And SMEs are of course essential to making sure we continue to push forward the boundaries in a sector like aerospace. Where the ability to exploit new and emerging technologies will be absolutely vital.

The potential here is, I believe, hugely exciting.

Unmanned Air Systems are now an absolutely crucial asset. Both in today’s battle space. And as a vital capability for the future.

We know this from our operations in Afghanistan.

And again of course Libya was another example.

Last month’s UK-France Summit committed us to taking forward our planned co-operation on UAS within a long term partnership framework that encompasses the different levels.

From tactical to ‘medium altitude long endurance’ (MALE) in the mid term. And unmanned combat air systems in the longer term.

Joint funding and interdependence should help sustain industrial capability and deliver cost savings. Work is proceeding at pace and industry input will be important.

On MALE we now have a joint office in Bristol and our next step will be to advance the jointly funded risk reduction studies for the MALE. We will look to take further decisions after the outcomes of the study.

I’d like to say a word here about Watchkeeper.

We welcome French interest in acquiring this unmanned aerial capability, and we are looking at opportunities to organise trials in France next year.

I think both sides agree there is a lot of mutual benefit to be had when it comes to co-operating on this system.

Watch this space, as they say.

Unmanned combat air system

The next couple of years are going to be very busy.

And it will be a period of vital importance, I believe, when it comes to shaping the future of european combat air.

Looking ahead to when Rafale and Typhoon come out of service in the 2030+ timeframe, both the UK and France will have a requirement to examine the options for the next generation of combat air systems.

Strong correlation has been found between UK and French needs and aspirations in the combat air sector.

A common vision on the “combat air” sector has been shared and is being developed between governments.

This should ensure that we have the necessary skills and technological capbilities to take development forward of this complex military air system.

Next year we intend the UK and France to undertake a joint ‘Future combat air system demonstration programme’.

Pending national approvals and decisions points on both sides, we’ll be starting work as soon as possible on a specification for this demonstration.

There will be a jointly funded contract under the industrial leadership of our national fighter aircraft industries.

This will need both an investment in the right technologies and of course the skills required.

Again, those of you here today from industry have an important stake in this. Opportunities for business will exist across the supply chain and we will be looking to you for your support.

Complex weapons

We are now developing a 10 year strategic plan for the British and French complex weapons industries.

Our aim on this is to benefit from our common position on this sector when it comes to budgets, as well as similar military and industrial requirements.

A joint strategy will help us to consolidate our complex weapons industrial base.

As well as help both countries to offer competitive products on the global market which will be essential to sustain a thriving industry.

Taking this strategy forward will require a process of transformation across the industry as a whole in both countries.

MBDA is providing the industry lead for the sector through what is known as the Centre of Excellence model.

A400M transport aircraft

Support and training are areas where collaboration can bring us tangible benefits.

Look at a project like the A400M transport aircraft, which is a great example.

Initial deliveries to France are expected in early 2013, with the first UK delivery due in September 2014.

We’re developing a common support plan, including for spare parts, for our future fleets of these transport aircraft.

An integrated support contract will be negotiated with Airbus Military before the arrival of the first French operational aircraft next year.

We will also have a joint user group when it comes to co-operation on training.

The importance of research and technology

I’ve already talked today about innovation as the key driver to developing the high-tech, battle winning solutions UK and French Forces will need in the future.

The kind of solutions which could well be deployed when our Combined Joint Expeditionary Force and deployable Joint Force Headquarters, becomes operational in just a few years time.

That’s why research and technology is an area where, as far as I am concerned, it is imperative that we continue to invest.

Our commitment to an annual target of 50 million Euros each from the UK and France on collaborative research and development shows we are serious about this.

Collaborative research of course also means that we need our top brains working together. I’m confident our new joint PHD programme will be a catalyst for this.

It’s essential that the UK start defining priority areas for this research. And of course industry has an active and important role to play in this.

We need you to be working with us. In identifying the gaps. Spotting the opportunities and coming up with solutions.

Take an area such as critical technologies where commercial off the shelf technologies may not be sufficient to meet UK and France defence needs.

That is why are already working on a joint plan to identify the key technologies both countries will need over the next 12 to 15 years.

Technology is of course advancing all the time.

What we have to do, government, the military and industry, is to make sure we’re thinking creatively. Again, this is something SMEs excel at.


There is no time to lose on this. We may not know what the future holds.

But we do know it will remain uncertain.

We have to be prepared.

The historic Defence Co-operation Treaty laid strong foundations for two great nations to work together in an area which is so important to the safety and security of us and future generations.

We are now embarked on a wide range of ambitious programmes which, I believe, will ensure we are ready and able for the challenges of the 21st century.

We will of course be looking to you, industry, to deliver. I know we can count on your energy and support in making this happen.

Thank you.