Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

Doubts have been cast on the future of the naval derivative of the Taurus KEPD 350 stand-off missile, built by Swedish-German venture Taurus Systems, in the light of an unexpected German navy budget shortfall of some DM800 million ($473 million).

According to the Bonn defence newsletter Wehrdienst, the German navy faces the long-term shortfall in its missile procurement budget because calculations were based on cost figures which had been estimated in 1991 and which were not then extrapolated.

The German navy had been planning to make development funding available for the naval Taurus from 2003, and had been optimistic of buying 250 missiles to arm its frigates from 2009, replacing the fleet's current Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon.

Fears that this could affect the navy's decision to arm its K130 corvettes with the trinational Polyphem fibre-optic guided missile are dismissed by Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) and the navy.

According to Dasa, the 60km (37 miles)-range Polyphem is the only missile which meets German navy requirements, and a demonstration programme has been initiated by the navy to evaluate the weapon's use on submarines.

While the Polyphem's future still appears secure, sources in Bonn suggest that the naval Taurus, the KEPD 150-SLM, could fall victim to the tightened budget. LFK has carried out studies of the radar-guided missile, which would have a 270km range and carry the Mephisto penetrating warhead. The navy has also formulated a requirement for a missile in this class, says LFK, dismissing fears that the concept could be dropped as "speculation".

Taurus' future is also in doubt in the light of continuing talks between Dasa and British Aerospace on a merger of their military capabilities. Taurus lost the UK stand-off weapon competition to the Matra BAe Dynamics Storm Shadow missile, undermining repeated claims by LFK and its Anglo-French shareholder that the missiles are not competitors, and can co-exist.

Taurus Systems, owned by LFK and Bofors, won a German Government development contract for the air-launched 350km-range KEPD 350 earlier this year.

Matra BAe Dynamics took a 30% stake in LFK in October 1997, and has an option to increase this to 49%. Should the current talks yield further consolidation between BAe and Dasa, then Taurus' future may be undermined, say sources in Bonn.

Source: Flight International