France eyes sea-launched cruise missiles


The French navy will join the United States and Britain in using ship-based cruise missiles by 2015 after delivery of its first batch from European missile maker MBDA, a company executive said yesterday.

Until now, the Tomahawk missile has been the main one of its type launched from navy vessels and submarines, but MBDA has been working on developing a version for the French navy since 2006.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, Lionel Mazenq, a systems engineer for MBDA involved in the development of the Scalp Naval cruise missile, said the aim was for it to be used first on multipurpose frigates.
“It’s a key element in the first phase of a military operation and this would enable France to enter the club, which at the moment only really has the United States and United Kingdom,” he said.

In the first days of the Libyan conflict, U.S. and British ships and submarines launched hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles to help enforce a United Nations resolution for a no-fly zone over the North African state.

In a statement late yesterday, the Defence Ministry said it was aiming to use the missiles from 2014 on its frigates and 2017 on its new nuclear-powered Baracuda attack submarine.

The Scalp Naval is being built in two configurations.

The vertical launch will be used on frigates holding as many as 16 missiles, of which Aquitaine is due to be commissioned in 2012.

The second is the sub-surface missile for the Barracuda class submarine.

MBDA is co-owned by BAE Systems, EADS and Finmeccanica.

The Scalp, derived from the equivalent version operating on the Rafale fighter jet– built by Dassault Aviation, will have a range of about 1,000 km.
“It can be launched from very far away and means you have a threat at all times,” Mazenq said, adding that unlike the Tomahawk it has automatic target recognition to help avoid “collateral damage.”

The missile was first tested for its ship version in 2010. A simulated test for the submarine version was successfully carried out on June 8, the ministry said.

Mazenq said there were currently no plans for export sales of the missile, but that each one would cost a “little bit more” than the version on the jet fighter.

According to a French parliamentary report, the country invested about 382 million euros (US$543.5 million) in buying 450 missiles, roughly 850,000 euros for each missile.

The government has ordered 200 of the Scalp Naval missiles, including 150 for the frigates and 50 for the submarine, the ministry said without giving a value for the deal.