Proposal 6: Pursue the objective of building FCAS capacity
Enhanced aerial combat capacities will be crucial for the wars of tomorrow. Yet no European country currently has the financial or industrial capability to build a next-generation aircraft alone, given the investment it requires and the stretching of military budgets. As a result, the risk is losing this competence with the end of the Rafale, Typhoon and Eurofighter programmes. On top of industrial issues, within the context of a loosening transatlantic relationship, it is key for national security to maintain European capability to design autonomous combat air systems.
The UK’s commitment to purchase 138 F-35 jets (48 have already been ordered, four have been delivered), the absence of current operational need for an FCAS programme on the British side, and the UK’s strong defence industrial relationship with the US, has raised doubts over the completion of the original UK-France FCAS programme, which is important to develop specific technologies that would be needed for the next generation of fighter aircraft.
However, it would be a pity to abandon a programme in which significant financial investments have been made, as a feasibility study and technological work have already begun. Furthermore, the UK has unique capabilities among European states in fighter jet design, whether it is military engines, electronic warfare, sensors or stealth technologies. Plus, the involvement of its air force in high-intensity combat operations and kinetic strikes would help design a combat air system with adapted operational capabilities. By contrast, there are significant differences between the French and the German (mostly defensive) use of air force, that could lead to divergences among programme’s priorities.
It therefore seems desirable to proceed, in the medium-term at least, with the UK-France FCAS programme, in order to develop the key technologies needed for a future combat air system; and, in the long-term, to merge this programme with the France-Germany FCAS programme as a France-UK-Germany project. In time, this programme might serve as one of the first building blocks of a "combat aircraft MBDA".
Proposal 7: Increase cyber security cooperation by developing formalised and structured modes of cooperation
The UK’s involvement in the Five Eyes community remains a sticking point for France-UK cooperation in cyber security.
However, US-UK cooperation on nuclear issues did not prevent UK-France nuclear cooperation from becoming a pillar of the Lancaster House agreements. That cyber security is a sensitive subject should not prevent stronger French-British cooperation in this area, which is becoming as central as nuclear in strategic affairs.
We propose going further than the strategic dialogue on cyber threats set up by the Sandhurst summit – instead, complementing the Lancaster House Treaties with a cyber security pillar. This should include the joint development of a doctrine for responding to cyber threats, the development of joint capabilities (especially on the key technologies identified by the French cyber defence strategic review, namely data encryption, detecting and identifying cyber-attacks and AI), and establishing a joint government taskforce to explore options for further cooperation. One of the purposes of this taskforce would also be to formalise cyber cooperation and provide a platform for regular and structured discussions on these issues between the UK and France.
This cyber security pillar can only work under exclusivity and non-disclosure agreements, which would preserve secrecy on jointly developed capabilities.
Proposal 8: Formulate a joint strategic vision to inform R&D planning
All of the joint R&D UK-France programmes designed to prepare for oncoming threats will rely on a common set of key technologies, drawing mainly on AI, cyber security, robotics, stealth and spatial observation. In addition to industrial cooperation, research will be needed to militarise technologies developed by the civil sector.
Although states prefer to develop several capacities alone, there is a clear case to be made for more joint research that is defence and security-oriented. It was an ambition established at the bilateral 2012 Paris summit, but both countries have as yet failed to deliver.
To orientate UK-France defence and security cooperation towards the future, it is necessary to formulate a strategic vision, based on a joint identification of key technologies and potential opportunities. This, in turn, needs to be implemented through a range of bilateral instruments, building on the Sandhurst agreement to develop joint research in AI and cyber security. If the final Brexit agreement allows for the UK to retain some level of access to Horizon 2020 and the European Defence Fund, they could provide sources of funding for joint projects.
Proposal 9: Implement a formal intelligence framework between France and the UK
Nowadays, intelligence cooperation between France and the UK, while regular and deep, works mostly on an informal basis, founded on trust and personal contacts. Although these are imperative, they are not a substitute for more structured, formal relations that are enshrined in law and help to foster intimacy between the two countries. Such a framework is all the more important considering intelligence cooperation is increasingly based on the exchange of data.
The Lancaster House treaties should therefore be complemented by a discreet agreement on intelligence sharing which facilitates cooperation between the UK and France.
Proposal 10: Deepen joint defence engagement activities
Design and implement joint defence engagement activities. As a token of the close relationship between the two countries, joint defence engagement activities should be developed. Through the use and deployment of liaison officers in each countries’ respective defence and foreign affairs ministries, the UK and France can collaborate on outward-facing activities. Such activities might involve, for example, giving joint information briefings to foreign service staff.
Proposal 11: Use and strengthen officer exchange programmes
Exchange programmes have played a key role in facilitating UK-France defence and security cooperation, helping each country to develop a better understanding of the other’s activities and structures, as well as expanding their networks. This mutual understanding should be cultivated further, in order to safeguard cooperation between France and the UK for future generations of military and civilian officers.