European collaboration has taken a significant step forward, with the signature of a new defence treaty by the heads of the French and UK governments in London on 2 November.
Increased co-operation in military procurement, research and development, operations and logistics support will be among the results of the pact, along with the establishment of a new Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. The first air and land exercises will take place in 2011 to develop the latter structure, which will retain the ability for either nation to commit forces independently.
"Britain and France are and will always remain sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interests when we choose to do so," says UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Particular attention has been given to the creation of a joint capability using the nations' planned lone aircraft carriers.
"We will develop the ability to deploy a UK-French integrated carrier strike group, ensuring that either a British or a French carrier is always available for operations," Cameron says. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France hailed the UK's recent decision to equip its one operational Future Aircraft Carrier with catapults and arresting gear. "This is going to enable us to have a truly integrated aircraft carrier group," he says.
© Cyril Cosmao/French navy
Under the initiative, the UK's Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighters and the French navy's Dassault Rafales should be able to operate from either carrier (Charles de Gaulle pictured, above) from the early 2020s.
An earlier proposal for France and the UK to establish an integrated logistics support system for their Airbus Military A400Ms has also been approved, with the partners expecting to sign a contract with the manufacturer by the end of 2011.
Further co-operation will be sought in relation to training requirements for their respective fleets of 50 and 22 of the transport aircraft (below).
© Airbus Military
"We are currently investigating the potential to use spare capacity that may be available in the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme to meet the needs of France for air-to-air refuelling and military air transport, provided it is financially acceptable to both nations," their declaration on defence and security co-operation confirms.
London and Paris are also eyeing significant developments in the unmanned air vehicle sector, and have agreed to work together on next-generation medium-altitude, long-endurance systems. "We will launch a jointly funded, competitive assessment phase in 2011, with a view to new equipment delivery between 2015 and 2020," the document says.
They will also look at their requirements and options for unmanned combat air systems to enter use from 2030. "We will develop over the next two years a joint technological and industrial roadmap. This could lead to a decision in 2012 to launch a joint technology and operational demonstration programme from 2013 to 2018." The initiative will build on the lessons learned during Europe's Dassault-led Neuron and BAE Systems' Taranis technology demonstration programmes.
© Crown Copyright
The UK's Taranis unmanned combat air system demonstrator was unveiled earlier this year
BAE says it "actively supports" the proposed collaboration on surveillance and combat UAVs. "Not only is this an important milestone in terms of the development of our ongoing unmanned aircraft capability, but it represents a significant investment in the future of our UK and French military aerospace capability," it says. "We have entered into discussions with Dassault to explore how we could best deliver this opportunity," the company reveals.
The nations have also agreed to work on joint missile projects which they hope could remove duplication and produce efficiency savings of up to 30%.
They plan to award MBDA contracts in 2011 for the future anti-surface guided weapon heavy/ANL, and to assess future enhancements for their Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles. "Co-operation in this sector will serve as a test case for initiatives in other industrial sectors," they say.
Cameron describes the new defence treaty - which was swiftly nicknamed the "entente frugale" - as a sign of "practical, hard-headed co-operation between sovereign countries" that will "help us to maintain and strengthen our defences at a time when national finances are severely challenged". Both leaders also stressed their determination to strengthen co-operation between NATO and the European Union.
"Contrary to what might seem otherwise, France and Britatin's clocks strike the same hour at the same time," says Sarkozy. "Who would stand to gain were we to be divided? Britain and France? Of course not, neither. We have common commitments and we will shoulder them together," says Sarkozy, who notes that France and the UK account for half of the defence budget spent in Europe each year.