Hypersonic: the resounding blow from Brussels to France and MBDA

Unthinkable… How did the European Commission’s Hypersonic (European Hypersonic Defense Interceptor – EU HYDEF) project escape MBDA and France? Given the skills and experience in this field, this project was committed to France in general and MBDA in particular. And yet the unthinkable happened: the French were too self-confident and too inattentive in the face of competition for the Spaniard Sener, who was playing the game of the Commission’s competitive procedure, according to several sources in Brussels.

The causes of this failure are reminiscent of those identified when Airbus Space (then Astrium) lost the first competition for the supply of satellites for the Galileo constellation in 2010 against industry newcomer OHB without appeal. Just like MBDA for the Hypersonic Interceptor, the program from European tracking and locating system satellite navigation was promised to him. This failure shaped Airbus for a long time.

No withdrawal possible?

According to our information, the results of the evaluation of the two proposals on this hypersonic project, which must develop a European interceptor (better than Mach 5) with the ability to respond to high-speed threats, are apparently definitive. Did the winning consortium promise far too much, as some think? Possibly, but in the end the gap between the two consortiums made it impossible to “save” the MBDA-led consortium that had brought together 51 companies from 14 different countries for this major program in terms of operational capacity for Europe, we declare La Tribune. “They didn’t put much effort into their proposal”A source familiar with the matter regrets this.

However, thanks to talks with the winning consortium and the European Commission, the European rocket could be back in the game. It still appears to be playable, the same source said. But within the consortium we doubt it. “Why Sener wants to discuss”, we explain to La Tribune. And time is of the essence, the treaty must be signed by December 31 for it to take effect in early 2023.

France loses everything

“France is nowhere” in Europe’s missile defence, a source familiar with the matter regrets. Brussels’ selection of the Sener-led consortium is disastrous for France, which nonetheless initiated this European interceptor project. She had managed to interest and then persuade the Germans and Dutch, who are very dependent on the United States in this area (Patriot), to launch an anti-missile defense program, especially against hypersonic threats. It also had Italy on its hook, which was already very tight under the SAMP/T programme. “MBDA has been operating for more than twenty years on technologies related to hypersonic and the ASN 4G program”The CEO of MBDA, Eric Béranger, also explained this to the Senate in early June. France seems very legitimate in this area.

Dwithin the framework of the European Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco), French and German share control of Twister program (Timely warning and interception with space-based theater surveillance) what was split in two: to the Germans (OHB), coordination of the early warning system, to the French (MBDA), the coordination of pillar endo-atmospheric interception. This project aims to establish an early warning and command and control (C2) system linked to a range of interceptors to neutralize ballistic and hypersonic threats (hyposonic cruise missiles, hypersonic gliders, maneuvering ballistic missiles). Validated in November 2019, this capability project involves six EU Member States (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland).

As part of the European Defense Industrial Development Program (EPIDP), the European Commission then selected OHB in June 2021 for the ODIN’S EYE project (2021-2024), in which ArianeGroup is also involved, but also Airbus Defense and Space France, ONERA and Thales. This project, funded by the EU with 7.5 million euros, deals with space early warning and is intended to prepare the development of a ballistic missile detection capability hypersonic and civil launch vehicles from space to contribute to missile defense, proliferation surveillance and space surveillance. ArianeGroup has been present in this field for many years, bringing its expertise in ballistic threat and hypersonic and in missile defense.

What will Berlin do?

After being selected by the Commission, which had identified a capability gap in the face of hypersonic threats, the Franco-German project is now missing one pillar, that of the interceptor named Aquila. Because Sener in association with the German Diehl does not come close to reaching the expertise of MBDA, it is much more legitimate to understand and characterize the threat. However, the war in Ukraine brutally confirmed the hypersonic threat. Germany, which has 100 billion euros to spend, will it have the patience to wait for the development of a program entrusted to Spain, Poland, Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic? Not sure. It could, like the Netherlands, return to the arms of Americans willing to complete an FMS (Foreign Military Sales) sale.

Also, Sener’s selection is not in line with the Commission’s recommended consolidation of Europe’s defense industry, but rather with the duplication of capabilities.

Why this skill is crucial

Why has this ability become so important for France and Europe? In addition to France (Project V-max, a hypersonic glider that can reach speeds of 6,000 to 7,000 kilometers per hour, covering the distance between Dunkirk and Nice in 12 minutes) three powers are developing hypersonic weapons: RussiaChina and the United States. You must be prepared to defend yourself against hypersonic attacks”Eric Béranger had also been recalled before the senators of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Committee.

“Hypersonic weapons have many operational advantages related to their range of flight in conjunction with their speed, maneuverability and integrity.integration within complex combat architectures, explains in the National Defense Review Justine Vieui.eoctorant on she armor hypersonic (Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School). These weapons are capable reach Speeds comparable to those of a ICBMs (ICBM, note d. editorial) following trajectories unpredictable, which significantly limits the opponent’s ability to reactknows”.

“We must continue our investments in breakthrough technologies: hypersonic gliders that can travel 100 kilometers in one minute”confirmed the former Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, in September 2020. In January 2019, she revealed the existence of the hypersonic glider V-max (Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle) Entrusted to ArianeGroup: “We have decided to register a contract for a hypersonic glider demonstrator. Many nations are acquiring it, we have all the skills to carry it out: we could not wait any longer. (…) This project, V-max, will be a technological leap for many of our capabilities”. Imagine a hypervelocity rocket that conjugate the hypersonic and the Maneuverability.