FRANCE'S DEFENCE aerospace industry is bracing itself for a bruising battle with the new government over what may amount to swingeing cuts in defence expenditure over the next five years.

Programmes in the firing line include the multi-national Future Large Aircraft, the NH90 military utility helicopter, the M5 intercontinental ballistic missile, and even the Tiger attack helicopter.

Concern over what amounts to a strategic review, likely to be led by Jean Picq, a Chirac advisor closely associated with the aerospace industry, who is to head the committee reviewing the five-year plan, have already provoked a response from industry.

NH Industries has warned the Government that it will "save no money" if it cancels its commitment to developing the NH-90.

The Chirac Government is looking for savings of Fr8.4 billion by the end of the year, representing an 8% reduction on the original plan, and has made it clear that it intends to maintain the lower level for subsequent years.

According to NH Industries, the memorandum of understanding signed by the four nations involved in the programme (France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands) has a clause committing any country withdrawing from the programme to indemnify the other governments for the remainder of the development.

Personnel changes may also affect key UK helicopter procurement plans, although in a somewhat less dramatic fashion.

The UK Secretary of State for Defence Malcolm Rifkind has been promoted to Foreign Secretary and is replaced by Michael Portillo. Roger Freeman the defence procurement minister, has also been promoted to be replaced by James Arbuthnot.

A decision on the helicopter was hoped for before Parliament goes into recess on 20 July, but this is now in doubt.

Source: Flight International