France-UK defence ties: ambition, credibility, interoperability

"The Franco-British defence relationship: security requires it, friendship demands it” (Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, 16 November 2016)

The Franco-British Council Defence Conference, attended by both defence ministers on 16 and 17 November 2016, provided a reminder of the importance of our military cooperation

France and the UK, both NATO members, share ambitions in the defence field. They are the only countries in the European Union with all the military capabilities necessary for high-intensity operations. Our two countries’ defence budgets alone account for half the EU’s military expenditure.

Our military cooperation is the most crucial element of our bilateral relationship. It is governed by the Lancaster House treaties of 2010 and has three aspects:

- an operational aspect (i.e. the possibility of jointly committing troops to theatres of operation). For example, we have created a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF). This binational force can mobilize up to 10,000 troops at very short notice and conduct high-intensity operations. The last joint exercise, Griffin Strike, was held in April 2016: some 5,500 personnel – more than 2,000 of them French – from all three services took part in the exercise from 10 to 23 April, for a full-scale test of their interoperability, particularly that of the command chain.

- weapons cooperation. In 2016 we launched the demonstrator development phase of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a new generation of combat UAVs, and signed an agreement to development unmanned naval systems for detecting and neutralizing marine mines (MMCM).

- closer ties between our defence industries. We have just signed an agreement enabling our missile industries in the MBDA group to forge closer ties. We shall cooperate on new missiles, sharing the task. This enables us to pool certain costs; in this specific field, we are therefore evolving towards accepted mutual dependency.

Recent concrete Franco-British commitments have also enabled us to strengthen the operational aspect of cooperation. Whether it be the actions carried out by French and British forces in Libya in 2011 (Operation Harmattan), Britain’s support for the French engagement in the Sahel in the framework of Operations Serval and then Barkhane, or – more recently – cooperation in the Levant with the incorporation of HMS Defender and HMS St Albans into the carrier battle group, the French and British are continuing to develop a high level of interoperability.

This ambitious bilateral cooperation is unparalleled. Brexit has no direct impact on it, as it falls under a strictly bilateral framework; our defence relationship is more necessary than ever, given the danger and intensity of the crises developing on Europe’s borders./.

Published on 18/11/2016

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