France Seeks to Compete With U.S. in Antimissile Realm

Recent calls by French lawmakers for a significant government investment in antimissile activities appear motivated less by fears of an Iranian missile attack than by a desire to be a key player in missile defense, Aviation Week reported on Thursday (see GSN, July 13).

Legislators aim to ensure the viability of the nation’s arsenal and to ensure that U.S. defense firms do not obtain the overwhelming majority of contracts for missile shield efforts in Europe, where NATO has committed to bolster national antimissile capabilities in accordance with its plan to construct an alliance-wide missile shield.

A French Senate committee last week called on the Sarkozy government to invest in excess of $2 billion over the next 10 years on missile defense research. The report marks the first time parliament has strongly called for such work and prepares the way for missile defense to be included as an important part of a new national security white paper set for drafting after the 2012 national elections.

By developing the capability to target missiles outside the atmosphere, France believes it will acquire the technical knowledge to design interceptor-evading modifications for the replacement to its M51 submarine-launched ballistic missile, according to sources in the private and public sectors.

In the past, Paris has played down the importance of missile defenses on the continent, according to Aviation Week. Now it has embraced the NATO initiative and is moving forward with a number of efforts including orbiting early warning systems and weapons for eliminating missiles both inside and outside of the atmosphere.

Financing could be provided in 2011 on upgrades to enable the Aster Block 1NT missile interceptor to target ballistic missiles.

Lawmakers also called on France and Germany to cooperate on the development of a high-flying drone aircraft that could monitor ballistic missiles through use of infrared sensors (Svitak/Wall, Aviation Week, July 21).