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BAe-brokered missile deal heads off European divide

EUROPE'S LEADING missile manufacturers have pulled together a last-minute deal allowing a single collaborative bid for Royal Air Force's £850-900 million ($1.3-1.37 billion) next-generation future medium-range air-to-air missile (AAM) requirement.

The British Aerospace-brokered agreement will see it lead a pan-European consortium offering its Meteor missile for Staff Requirement (Air)1239 to provide an active-radar beyond-visual-range weapon for the RAF's Eurofighter EF2000s. Bids for the extended range weapon are due to be submitted on 11 June.

The agreement pulls together BAe Dynamics, Saab, GEC-Marconi and Alenia, previously teamed to offer the S225X missile, with Matra and Daimler-Benz Aerospace's LFK unit. BAe says that should SR(A)1239 develop into a multi-national requirement, a joint venture would be formed to cover the programme.

The tie-up avoids a dangerous division appearing in European missile manufacturers' attempts to provide a credible alternative to a new variant of the USA's Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Matra and LFK had already teamed and, had BAE's "shuttle diplomacy" failed, would have bid independently for the SR(A)1239. A divided European camp, say sources, would have "...left the door open for Hughes".

BAe will act as the prime contractor for SR(A)1239, while GEC-Marconi will have "leadership" on the seeker. The latter will draw on the active-radar technology it developed for the Matra Mica 4A radar seeker.

As well as pushing the Meteor for the other nations involved in the Eurofighter EF2000 programme (Germany, Italy and Spain), the bid team is also aiming for the French Dassault Rafale and the Saab JAS39 Gripen.

Germany has been vocally supportive of a pan-European missile programme, while the French air force has begun to discuss an AAM with an engagement envelope considerably greater than that of the active Mica.

At the political level, there has been some friction between the Germany and the UK over the way in which the programme is being run. Germany, according to Bonn sources, would like a greater participatory role.

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