Growing concerns over budget pressures may see France follow the UK decision to pull out of the three-nation medium range Trigat anti-tank missile, according to sources close to the programme.

France's existing weapons commitments, which include the NH Industries NH90 and Eurocopter Tiger helicopters and the Dassault Rafale fighter, all now entering production, are putting heavy pressure on the current five-year budget plan, covering 1997-2002.

French prime minister Lionel Jospin has made it clear that spending from 2003-2009 should not increase in real terms. This is in direct opposition to the president, Jacques Chirac, who wants to strengthen France's commitment to European programmes and has demanded that the budget should grow to at least Fr91 billion ($12.9 billion) a year after 2003 from Fr86 billion today.

France has already committed to the seven-nation Airbus Military Company A400M transport, while several other programmes, including the Horizon warship and Meteor air-to-air missile, are due for decisions by the end of the year, when the next defence spending plan will have to be agreed.

A source at Matra BAe Dynamics says the UK Trigat decision "means we will have to consider the future of the programme very carefully". Belgium, France and Germany are also participating, but the UK would have taken the lion's share of production. But the UK Ministry of Defence says that its withdrawal from MR Trigat industrialisation and production is because of "unacceptable delays and uncertainties in a programme that is already 10 years later than originally planned".

Source: Flight International