Boeing’s top French representative has accused the European nation of shielding its arms market behind a wall of “extreme protectionism” while fighting the same in order to gain access in other markets.
The world’s largest aerospace firm is involved in a battle with European planemaker Airbus over the bidding rules for a contest to supply tankers to the US Air Force, which Airbus and its US partner Northrop Grumman have called unfair.
The president of Boeing France, Yves Galland, says the US has ordered hundreds of army helicopters from Airbus sister company Eurocopter, while it has been 30 years since France had bought any defence equipment from Boeing.
“I think France is extremely protectionist in military matters,” says Galland, a former centre-right politician. The remarks highlight a transatlantic rift over mutual accusations of unfair defence acquisitions since Boeing successfully overturned a $35 billion contract for refuelling tankers awarded to Airbus and Northrop Grumman.
The contest is being re-run but Northrop has threatened to pull out unless final rules to be published in coming weeks reverse what it regards as an unfair advantage given to Boeing. Boeing has dismissed suggestions that the competition is unfair.
“We have examples where campaigns are fair and open in the US so when (the French) want to give lesson on openness, it would be better to set an example and not behave as one of the most closed and protectionist in military affairs in the world,” Galland told a news conference yesterday.
To back up his complaints of protectionism, Galland lifted the lid on attempts to forge partnerships between Boeing and two French companies over a futuristic defence project, which he said had evaporated under pressure from defence authorities.
He said that although Boeing had bid successfully with French electronics firm Thales for the FRES army modernisation project in Britain, the same firm had had second thoughts on co-operating in France after “decisions from above”.
The French project is a multi-billion euro plan to link up French army units through networked vehicles, known as Scorpion. “We had meetings (with Thales) and then to my surprise we noticed that what was true for FRES in Britain was not true for Scorpion in France and we were not welcome,” Galland said.
“Three to four months later we had a call from Sagem who really wanted to be partners with us on Scorpion and we started working on it until — how bizarre — September last year when we found out second-hand that it would have to be all-French.” Sagem is the electronics arm of French aerospace firm Safran, whose biggest client is Boeing since it makes the engines for its top-selling 737 airliner jointly with GE.
Safran declined comment and the French procurement agency DGA was unavailable for comment.
A spokeswoman for Thales said it had submitted a bid for Scorpion but it did not discuss its industrial partners. French aerospace industry lobby GIFAS said it would need to study Galland’s remarks in more detail before responding.
A Boeing-led effort to modernise the US Army known as Future Combat Systems was cancelled last year and the Pentagon said it would face competition in successor programmes.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the effort had failed to reflect lessons of counter-insurgency and close-quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.