London and Paris on Friday decided to further strengthen their cooperation in the defence sector and will jointly produce a combat capability stealth drone. They also agreed to accelerate plans to create a joint control and command centre for future military operations.

“The defence co-operation is real, it is substantial, it is going to make a big difference to the military capabilities of both Britain and France. We are similar-sized powers, with similar-sized armed forces, with similar ambitions. …It is partly about new capacity ... and it also covers the most sensitive defence areas of all, including of course the nuclear issue,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in Paris during the annual Franco-British Summit.

The agreements are in keeping with strategic defence cooperation known as the Lancaster House Accords which Mr. Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed by the two leaders in November 2010.

Britain and France also signed a raft of agreements in the nuclear and energy sectors with Britain giving its final thumbs up to France's powerful EPR nuclear reactor which is to be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Rolls Royce is to sign a €480-million deal with France's Areva.

The two companies announced they would work together on the “manufacture of components for new nuclear reactors and other projects in the nuclear sector”. Rolls Royce will supply services and components for Hinkley point with a commitment for three other EPR reactors at a specially constructed facility in Rotherham. The deal is expected to create 1200 jobs in Britain. The French electricity giant EDF will also sign a €100-million agreement for preliminary work at Hinkley Point.

But it is in defence that their cooperation has spectacularly intensified. Paris and London between them account for 60 per cent of the European Union's defence expenditure and the 2010 Lancaster House agreement laid the foundation for a rapprochement between their strategic nuclear deterrents while strengthening cooperation in conventional weaponry. A single word sums up this new entente cordiale: pragmatism.

“The fact that bilateralism took primacy over a multilateral approach is of huge importance. The majority of the British look upon European Defence as a strategic distraction which has not proved itself in the field. The Lancaster House agreements will allow the creation of a European defence outside the European Union,” explained Alistair Cameron of the Royal United Services Institute.

Edward Hunt, Senior Consultant, IHS Jane's Consulting, told The Hindu: “Cameron and Sarkozy announced their commitment to a joint unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstration programme for the U.K. and France. If the demonstration is successful — and there are many challenges — then it would be a significant step toward the creation of a next generation combat aircraft for Europe.

“The demonstration aims to develop technology that is significantly years ahead of today's UCAVs because this is about a greatly enhanced combat capability. There are political, economic, technological and operational hurdles — not least of which is the fact that it is currently illegal for unmanned vehicles to deploy their weapons without someone watching to verify targets.

“It remains to be seen whether sufficient political will can be maintained over the decade of design and testing required. This is extremely ambitious for a mid-2030 in-service date and will require careful collaboration to avoid delays and cost overruns. Challenges aside, this would offer a significant capability both for European use and export in an area where the US and Israel have been more dominant.”

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