MBDA chief executive Marwan Lahoud spoke to Alan Dron about prospects for business in the Middle East and the challenges posed by the American market.

Q: What will be the main thrust of MBDA's activities at Dubai?

A: Our main thrust at the show is to demonstrate our lead in next-generation air-launched missile technology for a range of platforms.

Equally, we are showcasing our air-defence expertise both for land-based and naval air defence.

Q: What are the particular prospects for MBDA products in the Gulf region at present?

A: Historically, this region of the world is very close to the heart of MBDA and total defence spending is still growing, even if not uniformly across the region. There are very important identified air defence and naval programmes in the Gulf for the years to come.

With this in mind, MBDA is offering, for example, vertical-launched Mica and the Aster missile land- and naval-based systems. On the naval front we are introducing the latest member of the Exocet family, the Block 3, chosen by the French navy. To equip key air platforms, MBDA is proposing ASRAAM and the air-launched anti-armour Brimstone.

Q: As you approach completion of your first year as CEO, what do you see as MBDA's biggest success over the past 12 months – and what do you consider its biggest current outstanding challenge?

A: This year has been tremendously successful for MBDA – we have won orders to the value of €4 billion ($5 billion) and established an exceptionally healthy forward order book of over $17 billion.

As far as the biggest challenge is concerned, like any business, it's to make sure you provide the best service possible to your customers. Delivery and in-service support is what counts.

Q: If you could change one thing about current procurement procedures, what would it be?

A: A very difficult question to answer as defence procurement procedures, cycles and budgets vary from country to country. In Europe, the recent FSAF Phase 3 contract awarded by the European procurement agency OCCAR on behalf of France, Italy and the UK is a good example of how procurement procedures can work at their best if military requirements are harmonised between various countries within one programme.

Q: Will any tweaks be made to Storm Shadow in light of its first operational firings during the recent conflict in Iraq?

A: As you know, Storm Shadow received the highest plaudits from all concerned following its successful deployment in the Gulf. We are now working on deliveries to the French air force and, in due course, Italy and Greece will be bringing the system into service.

Q: Will you meet your target of signing integration contracts with Eurofighter, Dassault and Saab Aircraft by the end of the year for the Meteor air-to-air missile?

A: Meteor is moving ahead incredibly quickly, especially when you consider the contract was signed not quite a year ago. We have already placed contracts for the seeker with Thales and for the ramjet system with Bayern Chemie Protac.

Other sub-contracts are already in place and we will have integration contracts in place with the three aircraft platform companies by the end of the year.

Q: Do you believe the US armed forces will ever make a really major purchase of a European missile system?

A: We have already achieved some successes like Durandal in the past, and more recently with the Diamond Back wing extension kit for the US Air Force's Small Diameter Bomb programme.

And there are plenty of other examples of European technology in the US, like the BROACH warhead. I strongly believe that MBDA is able to gain other US markets through open competitions, provided it offers the best technology at the best price and is able to meet local content requirements.

Q: Do you have any sympathy for the oft-quoted US view that European nations are failing to pull their weight when it comes to defence spending?

A: It is not for me to comment on how each European government prepares its budget or the decisions that lie behind a particular country's allocation towards defence spending.

I will say however, that it is vitally important for Europe to sufficiently fund key programmes to maintain not only a weapons capability but also a technology and industrial capability. When Europe pulls together, we can do it.

Just look at the six-nation Meteor programme, the Aster family, Storm Shadow/Scalp EG – these are examples of how we can bridge the often referred-to NATO capability gap. It's not always a question of how much money you spend – it's important that you spend it wisely.

Q: How significant is the order for Diamond Back from the US, given the latter's traditional preference for home-grown systems?

A: I've gone on record as saying that part of my business strategy is to raise the profile of MBDA in the USA.

So the Diamond Back order is both great news and of great significance. It is proof that MBDA is competitive enough and has the technological capability to be an effective partner to the US DoD.

This is probably more important than the fact that the SDB/Diamond Back contract will give MBDA the opportunity to sell over 24,000 wing kits to the USAF over a 10-year period, not to mention all the associated export potential not only with SDB but also with JDAM.

Source: Flight Daily News