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Despite AUKUS submarine row, France and UK advance FC/ASW missile program

FC/ASW contract
Photo: DGA

The British and French joint program to develop a new generation of cruise missiles appears to be moving forward after hitting a roadblock last year.

On February 17, French defense procurement agency DGA revealed the signing of a “state agreement and contracts” with the UK’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency and missile specialist MBDA for the continuation of work on the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW), or Futur Missile Antinavire/Futur missile de Croisière (FMAN/FMC), as it is referred to in France.

The announcement comes after France cancelled a September 2021 meeting with the UK, which had FC/ASW as one of its main points of focus, over the AUKUS submarine row. The canceled meeting was just one of the ways France protested Australia’s cancellation of a deal to buy 12 French conventionally-powered submarines, opting instead to work with the UK and US on buying nuclear-powered attack submarines.

France and the UK now appear to have found a way forward on the already slow moving FC/ASW program. While France’s DGA did not provide much details, the announcement could point to the program’s progress from the concept phase, which has been going on since 2017, when the two countries signed off on the program start. The program passed a “key review” in 2019 that identified promising missile designs for in-depth analysis.

What the announcement did reveal is the fact that the program appears to have evolved into two separate missiles, a supersonic anti-ship missile and a cruise missile. It was previously believed that MBDA would be delivering one missile for both roles.

FC/ASW is intended as a replacement for the French and British Storm Shadow/SCALP air-launched cruise missiles, as well as the Exocet and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The program is also expected to deliver missiles compatible with the Mk41 vertical launch system (VLS) cells carried by Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates as well as the Sylver A70 systems found on French warships.

While France is yet to reveal expected in service dates for the program, the UK hopes to see FC/ASW fielded on Type 26 frigates in 2028, a year after the first ship in the class is expected to be delivered, and on the Typhoon fighter aircraft.

It remains to be seen whether the developed missile, or missiles, would be hypersonic. According to a statement from the Royal Navy First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, the hypersonic option was still being evaluated as late as November 2021.