Britain and France may be teaming up on defense but the notion of sharing an aircraft carrier, as was suggested this summer, is “utterly unrealistic,” said Defense Secretary Liam Fox yesterday.
Fox was in Paris to speak with his French counterpart Herve Morin about sharing the cost of military aircraft programs. Both countries are bracing for spending cuts which Fox, last month, described as “the absolute mother of horrors of a spending review.” Britain’s armed forces may have to give up whole brigades, armored formations, artillery units, maritime surveillance aircraft, the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Tornado strike aircraft, amphibious landing ships and one of the Royal Navy’s four Trident submarines.
Britain currently has three Invincible class aircraft carriers in service and is building the first of two Queen Elizabeth class carriers which is scheduled to enter service in 2016. The second, the HMS Prince of Wales, may end up being converted into something of an assault ship or canceled altogether. France has one aircraft carrier in service, the nuclear powered Charles de Gaulle.
While sharing carriers is out of the question, “when it comes to pooling assets in other areas such as strategic or tactical lift I would have thought that that was a different case altogether,” said Liam, referring to military transport planes and helicopters. Morin elaborated: “We have some tracks we’re going down: the A400M, the refuelling planes, and perhaps cooperation on naval capacity.”
The A400M is Airbus’ troubled attempt to produce a military transport plane that can replace the ageing fleets of C130 Hercules and Transalls currently operating in Afghanistan and around the world. The new plane was ordered in 2003 by seven countries but has been plagued with delays and is now scheduled to be delivered four years overdue. Britain, no matter a pledge from its previous government, may well pull out of the project to buy more American-made Boeing Globemaster aircraft instead.
Asked for concrete examples of how Britain and France might cooperate in the realm of defense, Morin urged reporters to “wait for the end of October.” He did note that the two armed forces, which are the largest in the European Union, are currently working closely together in Afghanistan and will seek to save funds by working toward “mutualisation” of procurement projects.