Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) is rethinking its plans for a missiles tie-up with Aerospatiale following the French Government's approval of the Lagardère group's bid for Thomson. If, as expected, the French privatisation committee approves Lagardère as the favoured bidder, the Thomson-CSF missiles business will be absorbed within the existing BAe Matra Dynamics joint venture, creating a new European missile giant.

DASA says that the Thomson decision creates a "new situation", which has changed the basis for its own attempts to create a new centre of gravity in the European missiles business. "We have to decide what active role we can play now in this co-operation," says DASA.

The planned Franco-German venture, known as European Missile Systems (EMS), has long been rumoured to be in trouble, with doubts arising over Aerospatiale's need to restructure and French commitment to key joint missile programmes.

According to DASA, current French defence-budget planning includes withdrawal from the transatlantic Medium Extended Air-Defence System (MEADS) and the Franco-German-Italian Polyphem fibre-optic-guided missile. They also include plans to cut and delay orders for the long-range Trigat anti-tank missile for the Franco-German Tiger attack helicopter - itself caught up in a funding crisis. All of these programmes were to be cornerstones of EMS. In particular, a French withdrawal from the MEADS could cause a schism in Franco-German defence co-operation lasting decades, says DASA.

DASA officials admit privately that BAe Matra Dynamics is now on course to emerge as the main force within Europe, with sales of more than $2.2 billion a year putting it on a par with emerging US giants. EMS would have had sales of around $1.4 billion. "I do not see it as a reasonable idea to create competition in Europe in the light of the situation in the USA," says one DASA official.

DASA remains optimistic, however, of pushing ahead with the similar European Satellite Industries (ESI) joint venture with Aerospatiale, despite French reluctance to treat this as a separate issue to that of EMS. Both joint ventures were unveiled in December 1995, but ESI has run into its own problems with wavering German commitment to the Helios 2 and Horus reconnaissance-satellite projects.

German participation in the satellite programmes was a key condition for French approval of ESI, and French defence minister Charles Millon now insists that neither joint venture will go ahead without the other.

The threatened defence programmes will be discussed at the summit meeting of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac in Nuremberg on 9 December.

Source: Flight International