France and Britain scuttle talk of pooling aircraft carriers
France and Britain announced Friday they are talking about sharing the cost of military aircraft programmes, but rejected reports that they plan to merge their aircraft carrier fleets.
"In terms of actually being able to share an aircraft carrier, I would have thought that that was utterly unrealistic," British Defence Minister Liam Fox told reporters after talks with his French counterpart Herve Morin.
"But when it comes to pooling assets in other areas such as strategic or tactical lift I would have thought that that was a different case altogether," he added, referring to military transport planes and helicopters.
Earlier this week, the British press had reported that the Royal Navy and the Marine Nationale were preparing to put centuries of often bloody rivalry behind them and share the use of their most powerful vessels.
But the ministers, while admitting that their budgets were extremely tight and that they were seeking ways to share costs by pooling resources, insisted that no such drastic measure was on the table.
Britain is undergoing a strategic defence review to decide which of its military programmes to cut, and Fox and Morin are to meet on October 14 to discuss "concrete plans" for cooperation.
"The work underway is ongoing at the rhythm determined by the British, who are undergoing an in-depth strategic review, against the backdrop of a serious budget problem," Morin told the pair's joint news conference.
"We have some tracks we're going down: the A400M, the refuelling planes, and perhaps cooperation on naval capacity -- but not on aircraft carriers, just so things are clear," he added.
The A400M is European plane-maker Airbus's troubled project to produce a military transport plane to replace the ageing fleets of C130 Hercules and Transalls working around the clock in Afghanistan and around the world.
The new plane was first ordered in 2003 by seven nations and air forces were to take their first deliveries at the end of 2009, but after lengthy technical delays they are now not expected until at least early 2013.
The project is also more than five billion euros over budget, at a time when client governments are looking for ways to reduce defence spending by renegotiating their contracts with Airbus.
Morin suggested that France and Britain could work together to ready the planes for combat service once they were finally delivered.
Airbus is also developing a new military plane based on its A330 civilian airliner for the mid-air refuelling of attack jets. Britain plans to buy the jets through a complex public-private leasing deal.
"You'll have to wait for the end of October for more precise details," said Morin, when asked for concrete examples of how Britain and France are planning to work together more closely in the years to come.
But he said that the two militaries, the most powerful in the European Union and currently comrades in NATO's Afghan mission, would seek to save cash by working towards "mutualisation" of procurement projects.
Morin said France and Britain could work together developing new weapons and systems at the industrial level "either in cooperation or in creating extremely strong projects that would lead us to interdependence."
Fox did not go so far, but said that the United States and France were Britain's two most important Western allies and that France's willingness to deploy forces abroad made it a "natural ally and partner".
Both ministers said that they were in complete agreement over the need to cut bureaucracy at NATO headquarters in Brussels, and would push for this at the alliance's upcoming summit in Lisbon in November.
"The fat needs to be trimmed away, because we're not in NATO as a job creation project. We are there to ensure that it delivers what we need in terms of our combined security," Fox said, echoing Morin's view.
© 2010 AFP