Comment: UK/France defence pact spells a tale of two cities

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Whoever coined the phrase "entente frugale" to describe a new defence treaty between the UK and France maybe shouldn't expect to receive the freedom of the cities of London and Paris, but deserves much praise for encapsulating one of the driving factors behind the new spirit of military co-operation.

With money tight on both sides of the Channel, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy believe they have found a way of delivering capability with a reduced individual financial burden. But crucially, they say their armed forces will not lose the equipment or skills needed to act independently.

This co-operation between allies should be applauded for driving out duplication and cost. Would it have made sense for the UK to set up its own logistics base for 22 A400Ms, when it can use a French model able to maintain more than twice this number? Would France have gained by buying A330 tankers when the Royal Air Force will have spare capacity on the type?

 
© Airbus Military

The treaty also offers up a fascinating new era of co-operation between BAE Systems and Dassault, who will work together on a new generation of unmanned systems. Increased collaboration in the guided weapons sector will also give a welcome boost to MBDA.

But tougher decisions will face Europe's two largest military powers over the coming years. The innovative plan to form an integrated strike group that will share use of each nation's lone aircraft carrier from early next decade sounds good in theory, but what will happen if one party wants to put it to combat use under a scenario which the other opposes - such as Paris's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003? Only time/temps will tell.

Have your say on the UK/French treaty by visiting Flightglobal's AirSpace Forum