Missile contest gets political

US accused of protectionist tactics as it pushes UK to choose Amraam missile over European Meteor

British Aerospace has accused President Clinton of being the `chief salesman’ for US defence firm Raytheon after he wrote to Tony Blair to press the case for Britain to buy the Amraam air-to-air missile.

Amraam (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) is a direct competitor to the European Meteor missile for which the UK partner would be Matra BAe Dynamics.

Clinton’s letter warned against the creation of `a fortress Europe’ and said Britain should concentrate on transatlantic defence co-operation. BAe argued that while Europe uses 14 major US systems, the US does not use any European missiles, despite major sales efforts.

`The US is desperate to protect its medium-range air-to-air missiles monopoly,’ said Robin Southwell, BAe’s group managing director of defence systems. He added that if Amraam was bought, it could affect Euro Fighter sales outside Europe through Congress’s power to veto US arms sales.

One BAe insider said: `This is the most political competition I have known.’

The row over Clinton’s letter followed a Raytheon offer to the UK this week to share in the development of a more advanced version of the AIM-120 Amraam. This weapon, or the Meteor, would equip the RAF’s 200 Euro Fighters.

Meteor is being developed by a consortium made up of the Anglo-French Matra-BAe Dynamics joint venture and German, Swedish and Italian firms.

BAe said Meteor sales to the RAF could be worth £1bn to Britain and up to £3bn for Europe if prospective sales to the other countries’ air forces were included.

The Government’s decision on which missile to buy has been put back from July until the end of this year. The best and final offers to the Ministry of Defence are to be submitted this month.

Copyright: Centaur Communications Limited