European guided weapons specialist MBDA is waiting on a decision from the US government on whether to acquire its Brimstone air-to-surface missile, with the company’s chief executive warning that a rejection of its offer will call into question the openness of Washington’s defence acquisition policy.

Speaking about the company’s inability so far to meet growth targets for its MBDA Inc unit in the USA, Antoine Bouvier says: “The most significant opportunity we could have short-term is the Brimstone, for some US customers.”

Reaper Brimstone graphic

A UK-developed weapon capable of striking moving ground targets in all weather conditions from fixed-wing aircraft and unmanned air vehicles, the dual-mode seeker-equipped Brimstone early last year completed a bilateral firing campaign from a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper in the USA. A potential order for the missile has also been the subject of discussions between British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, industry sources confirm.

“We are ticking all the boxes,” Bouvier says, referring to the Brimstone’s ability to fill a capability gap for the US armed forces. “We have made a very attractive financial proposal. We have negotiated to have the transfer of some important responsibilities – including the design authority – to the US partners.” Production of the missile would be performed at MBDA Inc’s Huntsville facility in Alabama.

“If we are not able in the next few weeks to confirm that we have entered into the US market with the dual-mode Brimstone we will have to recognise – not just MBDA, but the UK and the European defence community – that if we have failed to enter with such a perfect case then there is something wrong about accessibility,” says Bouvier.

“The stakes are high; not only for MBDA, but also for the defence industry of Europe, because this would not be the first time that we could be rejected.”

Bouvier believes a rejection by Washington “could also be a negative element for the USA, because it would have a much weaker credibility with the nice political statements about accessibility to the market and about competition if such an excellent product and an impeccable offer doesn’t work”.

Referring to the current offer as a “test case” for MBDA’s ability to sell its products to the US military, Bouvier concludes: “I am not over-optimistic.” The company “cannot be absent from this market”, he adds, but adds that if its proposal is unsuccessful, “we will stay, but in a way which will be reassessed”.

Meanwhile, MBDA has revealed its receipt of a study contract from the UK to test the integration of Brimstone with a rotary-wing aircraft, with a suitable test platform now being sought for the trial.

“I’m optimistic that within the next nine to 12 months we will have done firings,” says Dave Armstrong, MBDA UK’s incoming managing director. On 1 April he will replace Steve Wadey, who is leaving the company to become the new chief executive of Qinetiq.