BAE exec: We’ll have a hand in a next-gen fighter ‘one way or another’

FAIRFORD, England — BAE Systems wants a stake in any new European fighter program, says the executive running the British company’s combat air activities.

“I can’t say what it will be, and I can’t say when. … One way or another, the U.K. and BAE will have an involvement,” said Chris Boardman, managing director of BAE’s military air and information activities, told reporters at a briefing at the Royal International Air Tattoo, known as RIAT, being held here.

Industry executives at the show said it wasn’t just the British who are watching possible developments of the program. Sweden has shown an interest, as well, said one executive.

The RIAT briefing was called to announce the Typhoon jet built by BAE and others had reached another milestone in its development as a multirole aircraft with the first test firing of the Brimstone 2 ground attack missile, but the briefing was largely hijacked by questions about the British reaction to the Franco-German proposal July 13 to jointly develop a new fighter jet.

France and Germany agreed to study jointly developing a new fast jet to succeed Dassault Aviation’s Rafale in French Air Force service and the Panavia Tornado jets being used by the Germans following a joint Cabinet meeting held in Paris.

Other joint defense programs were also proposed, including an air-to-ground missile and an updated version of the Tiger attack helicopter.

The two countries want to put together a roadmap to develop a new fighter as early as the middle of next year, a timeline executives at the tattoo said was highly ambitious given the pace of agreeing European joint programs in the past.

BAE already jointly produces the Typhoon with Airbus and Leonardo of Italy and has a significant stake in the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 program that would likely be a rival to any new jet.

Boardman said that regardless of how plans for the European jet matured, BAE was already involved in a new next-generation fighter in a recently agreed deal with Turkey to help develop the TF-X jet with Turkish Aerospace Industries.

“We have engineers deploying to Turkey as we speak to start work,” he said.

He said BAE also had a memorandum of understanding with Japan on possible development of a new fighter.

Some executives at the show were wondering whether the Franco-German move was part of the fallout from Britain’s plans to exit the European Union. One executive said it could raise questions about the future of joint industry programs in the Lancaster House bilateral defense treaty between London and Paris.

The 2010 treaty led to BAE forming a joint project with Dassault and other leading British and French companies to develop a future unmanned combat air vehicle operational technology demonstrator in a program valued at nearly $2 billion.

Boardman dismissed suggestions the program could be compromised by the new fighter proposal. He said he had seen no letup in the pace of discussion over the next phase of the program.

A decision is expected by the end of the year to OK production of the demonstrator, said Boardman.

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