Julian Moxon/PARIS

The French Ministry of Defence has suspended the Aerospatiale Matra ANF supersonic anti-ship missile programme, citing threat studies that indicate such a missile is no longer needed.

The decision was a surprise to Aerospatiale Matra. ANF development had been funded in the 2000 defence budget and there was no hint of trouble when the spending plan was revealed by defence minister Alain Richard and navy chief Jean-Luc Delaunay in the third quarter of last year.

Development of the Vesta ramjet engine that was to power the ANF is unaffected as a version will be used in the ASMP-A nuclear air-to-ground missile under development for the air force and due for full scale development go-ahead in the middle of this year. "We therefore think there will not be great savings in the event of a cancellation of the ANF programme," says an Aerospatiale Matra source. The company adds that "delays to multi-year programmes such as the Dassault Rafale fighter and Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter have cost the government a lot of money".

Under the original plan, Aerospatiale Matra was set to receive a contract for around Fr2.8 billion ($430 million) at the end of last year, covering a multi-year order for development and industrialisation of the navalised version of the Vesta, the first 200 missiles and seven ship-mounted launch silos. Service entry was due in 2005.

If the suspension is confirmed, the company will be left with little choice but to continue marketing the subsonic Exocet missile, which has 25% of the global market for anti-ship missiles. No follow-on to the AM40 version is planned.

Aerospatiale Matra says, however: "We are confident there will be a need for an Exocet follow-on." The company insists that the threat is increasing and points to Russian development of an ANF-type missile that has already been sold to several countries. "Without such a programme Europe will lose its leadership in anti-ship missiles," the company says.

Source: Flight International