Audit office backs joint defence R&D for Europe

The UK’s military technology research is to involve more co-operation with other European Union countries, according to plans approved by the National Audit Office.

The Conservative party fears European military co-operation will drive a wedge between the US and the UK, but the report by the government spending watchdog, called Maximising the Benefits of Defence Equipment Co-operation, sees no conflict between the various procurement policies.

Britain is developing the Joint Strike Fighter with the US, while new European agreements could help future projects on similar lines to the Euro- fighter.Baroness Symons, minister for defence procuremnet, said last week: ‘The report welcomes recent initiatives such as the creation of the four-nation armaments co-operation agency, [and] the signing of the six-nation letter of intent to assist in the restructuring of the European defence industry.’

The four-nation armaments co-operation agency will see harmonisation on military needs, research and export controls to aid European defence industry restructuring.The letter of intent expands a military research technology agreement signed by Britain and France in 1997 to include Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The new co-operation letter will build on existing work between Britain and France, and aims to stop research duplication.

The two countries already co-operate on naval systems, future aircraft technology, precision-guided weapons, long-range artillery and command and control systems.In its co-operation with the US, the UK has now committed £1.3bn to the next development phase of the Joint Strike Fighter, which is intended to replace the Harrier aircraft.