Future Cruise / Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW)
Apart from France and the United Kingdom, no country in Europe currently has the capacity to carry out a deep strike. Following the Entente Cordiale of 1904, France and the United Kingdom built a strong and lasting alliance based on a comparable doctrine of the use of force. This strategic convergence led the two countries to wage multiple joint battles, from the two World Wars to the international coalitions of the late 20th century, such as the first Gulf War or the wars in the former Yugoslavia. France and the United Kingdom have, in recent years, been able to demonstrate the reality of their strategic closeness by participating in numerous joint operations.
British and French engineers are defining the concept for the Future Cruise / Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) project – the next generation strategic conventional weapon system for the French and British armed forces. France and the UK jointly fund the program, while other, MBDA Missile Systems, the multinational European venture involving the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, manages the project.
The main issue is the question of how the United Kingdom will deal with the ‘capability gap’ for heavy anti-ship weapons as a result of the withdrawal from service of the Harpoon missile 2023. In addition, there has been a divergence between the UK and France when it comes to prioritising stealth or prioritising hypervelocity. To date, the UK’s choices have focused more on stealth, while France has favoured velocity. The ability to agree on a vector, or even a family of vectors, is therefore another key issue that needs to be satisfactorily resolved for FC/ASW to succeed.
The United Kingdom and France have had a long and successful history of defence cooperation. In 2010, this partnership reached a new level with the signing of the Lancaster House agreements. These agreements strengthened cooperation between the two countries in both capabilities and operations, helping to consolidate a defense relationship which, by its breadth and depth, has few equivalents anywhere. The FC/ASW program is intended to build upon bilateral cooperation in the missile sector that has steadily developed since the 1990s when the SCALP/Storm Shadow program was launched. This cooperation resulted in the integration of missile industries into a unique and globally-sized industrial player: MBDA. The Lancaster House agreements, which led to the ‘One MBDA’ initiative, further rationalised this consolidation by instituting a relationship of interdependence between France and the United Kingdom, leading to the establishment of centers of excellence in both countries.
The SCALP EG/Storm Shadow program was the main catalyst for the creation of the European industrial company MBDA. Seeing the efficacy of the American cruise missile strikes during the first Gulf War, the French and British forces voiced, in the early 1990s, the need for capacity to strike strategic targets deep in the enemy territory. The cruise missile resulting from this programme, called SCALP EG in its French version and Storm Shadow in its British version, gives the French and British forces a considerable advantage. It combines high range, in excess of 250 kilometers, thus guaranteeing the safety of the launch platform, with stealth.
The joint management of the FC/ASW program is based, above all, on the recognition of a strategic and operational convergence between France and the United Kingdom. As both countries share similar analyses of the threats that they face, the operational requirements for both countries’ armed services is naturally comparable. Consequently, the FC/ASW aims to provide a heavy anti-ship capability—to deal with the possibility of a confrontation on the high seas — and a deep strike ability that can penetrate and neutralise air defences and hit long-distance targets.
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