Global General

France, UK agree to unprecedented military co-op

Updated: 2010-11-02 09:53
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LONDON/PARIS - Britain and France launch a far-reaching new defence partnership on Tuesday that includes setting up a joint force and sharing equipment and nuclear missile research centers, a French government source said.

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Treaties to be signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a meeting in London will pave the way for an unprecedented degree of military cooperation between the two neighbours.

The NATO allies, western Europe's biggest defence spenders and only nuclear powers, have a centuries-old history of military rivalry and, more recently, have differed sharply over issues such as the Iraq war.

Their new partnership is driven by the desire to maintain cutting-edge military capabilities while at the same time reducing defence spending to rein in big budget deficits.

"Britain and France do share a real interest here ... There are many areas where we can work together and enhance our capabilities and save money at the same time," Cameron told the British parliament on Monday.

Seeking to calm fears among the eurosceptic wing of his Conservative Party, Cameron said the move would not be a step towards a European army.

France and Britain will agree to set up a joint force, a brigade-sized army contingent with air and sea support, that could assemble as needed to take part in NATO, European Union, United Nations or bilateral operations, the French source said.

Cooperating on Carriers

France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and a British carrier that is just being built will be made compatible so that each country could fly their planes off the other's carrier.

The ultimate aim is for the two countries to coordinate so that one carrier is at sea at all times.

The two countries will agree to share nuclear warhead research and simulation centres, the source said. With nuclear missile tests banned, sophisticated laboratories permit both countries to test the safety of their nuclear warheads.

"This signifies that we have reached an unprecedented level of trust," the French source said. "It's this step taken in the nuclear domain that allows us to go further elsewhere."

The source said London and Paris are negotiating with Airbus on a deal to maintain their future fleet of A400M military transport planes. The contract is expected to be signed at the end of 2011, he said.

France will look at using some of the spare capacity that Britain expects to have in military refuelling planes once it takes delivery of 14 new Airbus tankers, the source said.

British legislators have criticised Britain's 10 billion pound ($16 billion) contract to lease tankers from an EADS-led consortium as poor value for money. Allowing France some use of the planes could save Britain money.

Britain and France will work together to develop parts for future generations of nuclear submarines; new missiles; unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones; a system to counter mines at sea; military communications satellites and on cyber security, the source said. They will also seek to strengthen their cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The deal comes two weeks after Cameron's government announced it was cutting Britain's 36.9 billion pound defence budget by 8 percent in real terms over the next four years to help rein in a record peacetime budget deficit.