France says it remains open to working with Germany on a future maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) even while it undertakes early scoping work on a domestic solution.
The pair in 2017 signed an agreement to jointly develop an MPA under the Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) programme for service entry in the 2030s, replacing the Breguet ATL-2 and Lockheed P-3C Orion aircraft respectively operated by the French and German navies.
But earlier this month the future of MAWS was called into question after the French DGA defence procurement agency announced it had awarded contracts to Airbus Defence & Space and Dassault, each worth €10.9 million ($11.8 million), for early-stage development work on a new MPA under an initiative called Patmar. It envisions a programme launch in 2026 for service entry in the 2030s.
Even before the DGA’s move MAWS had looked to be on shaky ground, with Germany having in June 2021 selected the Boeing P-8 Poseidon as an “interim” successor to its Orion fleet. To date, Berlin has ordered five of the modified 737s, with an expectation that additional examples will follow.
Despite the apparent tensions, Paris insists it is open to working with its long-standing partner on a future MPA.
“France will ensure that the solutions proposed by each aircraft manufacturer within the framework of the two architectural studies launched by France with Dassault and Airbus remain open to co-operation with other potentially interested European partners, including Germany within the framework of the revised MAWS project,” says the DGA.
Dialogue between the pair is continuing, it says, noting that its studies “remain consistent with the basis agreed with Germany at the launch of the MAWS project in 2017”, which were centred on “a manned aircraft of European design”.
However, it concedes that certain points must be “redefined” given the P-8 acquisition and the expectation of a top-up order “which generate, in particular, a desynchronisation of French and German needs”, says the DGA.
Dassault, whose Patmar studies are focussed on the Falcon 10X business jet, replies to the question on whether it is still participating in the MAWS programme with a terse “No”.
It believes the Falcon 10X – an ultra-long-range business jet set to enter service in 2025 – will be an ideal basis for an MPA, noting its similar size to the ATL-2, but with a maximum take-off weight around 6t higher.
“It should also be noted that the future Patmar aircraft, like the ATL-2 today, will have to be capable of deploying weapons,” it adds.
Airbus, meanwhile, declines to comment on any involvement in MAWS: “what we are doing now is responding to a feasibility study issued by the DGA to meet its MPA requirements”, it says.
“The decision to offer a solution based on the A320 is a result of an extensive analysis of our wide airliner portfolio, taking into account the requirements expressed by the DGA for the feasibility study.
“In terms of performance, weapons integration, growth capability, equipment allocation, payload or range… we firmly believe that the A320 will be the perfect asset to perform the extensive [list] of maritime patrol missions of the French navy.”