Paris Air Show

MBDA Looks Outside Europe For Growth

 - June 17, 2013, 3:35 AM
An RAF Tornado carries a pair of Dual-Mode Brimstone weapons on a rear fuselage station during operations over Libya. The performance of the weapon in that campaign has generated interest from the U.S.

Speaking prior to the Paris Air Show, Antoine Bouvier, CEO of European missile house MBDA, said, “2012 was an excellent year in terms of performance but it was a year of contrast for order intake. It was our best ever year for export, but the domestic market fell short, especially in France.” Leading those good export figures was a sizeable sale of MICA air-to-air missiles to India to support a Mirage 2000 upgrade program.

India is one country that highlights a change for MBDA as the company looks increasingly outside Europe for business. “We will continue to adapt to decreasing budgets in Europe,” said Bouvier, “but there is a growing gap between Europe and the rest of the world.” The company also has an eye on the United States, but admits it is more difficult to grow its business there.

For 2013 MBDA has the key objectives of maintaining its performance and continuing to lead the missile segment in Europe, while at the same time securing key export orders, with India a high priority. With the MMRCA new fighter competition nearing finalization, MBDA can expect significant orders from India whatever the outcome of the fighter deal. Additionally, while there has been no official contract announcement, media reports suggest that MBDA’s ASRAAM missile was down-selected earlier this year in preference to the Rafael Python 5 to be part of India’s Jaguar upgrade program.

To achieve its strategic objectives MBDA has a new business model built on three pillars. The first is its strong relationship with domestic customers, while the second is to foster and support increasing European cooperation, particularly between France and the UK. MBDA’s new light anti-ship missile is a joint procurement effort between the two countries, selected by France to fulfill its ANL (anti-navire légère) needs and by the UK to answer its FASGW(H) requirement.

While the UK signaled clear support some time ago, the French go-ahead has been held up by President Hollande’s government, which placed all development programs on hold pending the publication of a defense Livre Blanc (white paper). That document was published at the end of April and, while budgetary approval has yet to be obtained, it nevertheless identified ANL/FASGW(H) as a key missile program.

In the UK, MBDA is at the heart of the Team Complex Weapons, with the FASGW(H) weapon part of a wider missile procurement that also includes Thales UK’s LMM weapon for the FASGW(L) requirement. MBDA is already working with Thales on the Sea Ceptor naval air defense system and its Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM), which is due to enter Royal Navy service in 2016.

An increased focus on export is MBDA’s third pillar, to mitigate the challenges of decreasing budgets in Europe. With regard to the U.S. market MBDA eyes its Dual-Mode Brimstone missile as the main opportunity. U.S. forces were very impressed with DMB’s performance during the Libya campaign, and have expressed an interest. MBDA has also added an anti-FIAC (fast inshore attack craft) capability.

MBDA has joined forces with Lockheed Martin to explore potential sales of its missiles combined with the U.S. company’s launcher systems. The memorandum of understanding principally covers the employment of the LM Mk 41 vertical launching system and ExLS extensible launching system with Sea Ceptor/CAMM missiles, but also provides a platform for a broader pursuit of joint opportunities. MBDA plans to launch a CAMM from a Mk 41 launcher later this year.

Meanwhile, MBDA is hoping to integrate the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile on to the Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF as part of the aircraft’s Block 4 capability enhancements, which are currently being finalized. “It’s a mature ambition,” reported MBDA UK’s managing director, Steve Wadey. “We see 2013 as a critical year in the JSF program to give clarity on the route and timing [for Meteor integration].” The UK Ministry of Defence is the lead customer for the Meteor integration program.

The Meteor itself is gearing up for the production phase, with the first serial weapons to be produced by the end of the year. Support equipment will be delivered to the customers in advance of the first missile deliveries. In the meantime, MBDA is investigating the possibility of using the Meteor in a defense suppression role, although it is concentrating first and foremost on getting the missile into service on the Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.

Next year MBDA is scheduled to undertake the first air-launched demonstration of its Spear 3 (selective precision engagement at range, capability 3) weapon. Based on an outgrowth of DMB technology, Spear 3 aims to deliver what Wadey promises will be “the same kind of step-change for the air-to-ground mission that the Meteor brings to the air-to-air arena.” Internal carriage by the F-35 JSF is the initial primary application for Spear 3, which will deliver a 220-pound warhead over a range of up to 75 miles.