Weighing the defence implications of BAE-EADS consolidation

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Greater consolidation of the European defence industry via a possible merger between BAE Systems and EADS would boost efforts to further harmonise the continent's main military programmes.

Considerable advances have been made within the last several years, with the companies already the lead partners in the consortium responsible for the Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft, and as part of Europe's leading missile manufacturer, MBDA. Neither entity should be affected by the suggested closer integration between the parent companies, with the latter in particular having already moved to address the previous duplication that existed among the guided weapons industry in France, Germany and the UK a decade ago.

Harder issues to be faced in the fighter sector would concern the unified company's strategy about offering the Typhoon against the Dassault Rafale in future contests, due to EADS's existing 46.32% stake in the French airframer. The types went head to head in India's medium multirole combat aircraft battle, which was won by a Dassault-led team, and could easily continue to do so in other parts of the world if some nationally important activities are to be ring-fenced, as promised by BAE and EADS.

BAE's involvement as a production partner on the Lockheed Martin F-35 would have to remain the subject of UK-US relations only, but its offer of long-term jobs security would rule out any move to halt the company's significant role in the world's largest defence programme.

But with the current order books for the Eurofighter and Rafale to only sustain production until around the end of this decade, it is in the next-generation of European combat aircraft that efficiencies could be found. If such platforms are to be unmanned, then a coming together of BAE and EADS could succeed in driving through a vision of delivering a common solution capable of meeting the needs of many nations. A driving ambition for Stefan Zoller - the recently departed chief executive of EADS's Cassidian defence unit - a unified company could succeed in pulling together the expertise held in France, Germany and the UK.

BAE and Dassault have already signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in the development of medium-altitude, long-endurance and unmanned combat air vehicles, and the incorporation of Cassidian's technology development work on designs including the Barracuda and Talarion could be welcome.

One area that a merger would not address is the duplication found in Europe's defence electronics industry, where a streamlined BAE/EADS entity would face competition from Italy's Selex Galileo, part of Finmeccanica.