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French shipbuilding – Russia/Mistral-type helicopter carriers – European defense cooperation – Franco-British defense cooperation

Published on October 26, 2010
Interview given by Hervé Morin, Minister of Defense, to the “La Tribune” newspaper

Paris, October 26, 2010

FRENCH SHIPBUILDING

Q. – What are the future markets for the French shipbuilding industry?

THE MINISTER – France is a key shipbuilding nation. Proof of this: Brazil has decided to rebuild her navy by purchasing French technology.

French manufacturers have also won contracts with demanding countries such as Malaysia and India. This sector has amazing potential because we’re seeing the major emerging countries all aspiring to acquire blue-water navies. The Euronaval exhibition must be an opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to address the needs of countries annually devoting increasingly significant sums to their defence. Of France’s €8.16 billion of exports in 2009, 4.5 [billion] was from shipbuilding.

RUSSIA/MISTRAL-TYPE HELICOPTER CARRIERS

Q. – Will France manage to sell the Mistral-type helicopter carriers to Russia?

THE MINISTER – Answer before the end of the year…

I believe we’ve got to look at Russia in a new light. We can’t go on calling for a strategic peace and security partnership with her and, at the same time, see the Russians simply as heirs of the Soviet Union. I was the one who opened the door to this discussion in June 2009 by writing to my Russian counterpart. Today, everyone shares this idea. I welcome the fact that we can hope to get a major contract for French industry and, beyond that, open the doors to other cooperation projects.

EUROPEAN DEFENCE COOPERATION

Q. – In Europe, all cooperation is frozen. Don’t you feel like kicking up a real fuss?

THE MINISTER – I do so all the time. Because of their meagre defence budgets, the Europeans are sliding gently and comfortably towards an eventual Sino-American condominium. We are in the process of giving up being a player on the international stage where we will carry less and less weight without a European political construction. The absence of will and so of efforts in defence, inadequate cooperation and lack of ambition are creating all the conditions for a weakening of Europe. And yet the strengthening of our bilateral relationship with the British, which is the fruit of a genuine political will, shows what we should be capable of doing on a European scale!

FRANCO-BRITISH DEFENCE COOPERATION

Q. – What are the areas of cooperation between Britain and France?

THE MINISTER – In the naval sphere we are thinking about how to make our aircraft carriers more interoperable. Going beyond joint exercises, we are in favour of sharing the escort of aircraft carriers in naval strike groups. A British frigate could perfectly well help protect the Charles-de-Gaulle just as a French frigate could help protect a British aircraft carrier. Since the British have announced their wish to equip their operational aircraft carrier with catapults I’ve asked the armed forces staff to think about the feasibility of using British planes on our own aircraft carrier and vice-versa: except, obviously in the event of conflict or crisis where our respective interests were different. This would allow us to ensure a continuous at-sea presence. We are in the process of assessing these areas: it would be a major strong symbol. Maritime patrol aircraft and oil tankers can also be pooled.

Q. – Beyond the naval sphere?

THE MINISTER – Maintenance in operational condition (MOC) and training of A400M crews could be pooled as could the launch in the medium term of a joint “future UAV programme”. We are also thinking about other areas such as that of tanker aircraft. We could take advantage of British overcapacity once a way of fairly sharing costs has been found. Finally, there’s the whole question of streamlining the construction of the European missile system in a single ONE-MBDA. Budgetary constraints are forcing us today to take joint decisions particularly on cruise missiles and the light anti-ship missile.

Q. – The RGPP [Révision générale des politiques publiques – overhaul of government policies] provided for the abolition of 54,000 defence posts by 2014. What’s the situation now?

THE MINISTER – We’re on target. We had set ourselves the task of abolishing 8,250 posts a year, and we are doing this at an actual rate of close to 8,800./.

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