PARIS - France is offering the Heron TP as its contribution in kind to the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance program, but technical and financial problems related to adapting the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV to French standards are holding up a deal with Dassault and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), industrial and political sources said.
DASSAULT IS NEGOTIATING with Israel Aerospace Industries on the contract for the Heron TP, which the French company would then deliver to French authorities. (Israel Aerospace Industries)
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told the French aerospace journalists' press club that the deal would be sealed by "the end of 2012."
Dassault is negotiating with IAI on the contract for the Heron TP, which the French company would then deliver to French authorities.That's later than expected by industry and parliamentary sources, who had thought the controversial contract would be signed before the presidential elections starting in April.
"There are many difficulties" on adapting the Heron TP, driving the cost above the 320 million euro ($408 million) budget, a parliamentary source said. An extra 150 million euros each for Dassault and Thales has been estimated for the modifications, the source said.
That would push the cost to 620 million euros, approaching the 700 million euro price tag of a previous Dassault offer of the Système de Drone MALE.
The Defense Ministry has asked Dassault to submit a technical-financial proposal on the Heron TP at the end of the month.
Among the key modifications are a satellite communications link and de-icing equipment, vital to plugging the UAV into the French - and NATO - network and fly in the northern European climate, the industry executive said.
Procurement officials are working hard to make progress on the UAV case, and one option might be to acquire the Heron TP with little or no modification, the executive said.
That might create problems of interoperability within NATO as Paris has offered the Heron TP as its asset contribution, instead of paying cash, toward maintaining the AGS system, the executive said.
Although 13 nations are acquiring AGS, based on the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV, all 28 alliance members help maintain the system in return for access to AGS information.
"The AGS package is still being discussed at NATO," an alliance press officer said. "It is a topic to be discussed in the February meeting of defense ministers."
NATO has long sought to launch the AGS program, intended to provide commanders with a common operational picture.
France has had a troubled relationship with AGS, as Paris looked to gain a big technological role. The planned AGS system relies on five Global Hawks to provide radar and optical pictures of conditions the ground, and a network of transportable ground stations. The UAVs will be based at Sigonella airbase, Italy.
The choice of the Heron TP sparked resistance in the French Senate, which argued for acquisition of General Atomics' Reaper on grounds of cost, performance and interoperability with allied forces.
Longuet defended the choice of the Israeli UAV as "a compromise between capability and a long-term interest for industrial policy," he told the press club.
"We could have found a cheaper, more efficient, quicker solution, but at the [unacceptable] price of long-term dependence," he said.
Longuet denied that most of the contract value would go to IAI, saying that air vehicle is the smallest part of the system, with communication and observation more important.
The government argues that adapting the Heron TP to French needs will help develop competences among about 10 domestic companies in high-value areas, particularly in communications. Critics of the choice say there would be more work for French companies on the Reaper, pitched by EADS and General Atomics.
"No proposition was made by Reaper, which did not want to share, nor to adapt to French standards," Longuet said.
General Atomics did not make a formal offer because France did not send a letter of request, an industry executive said.
In 2010, the U.S. company signed a technical-assistance agreement with EADS detailing its offer, the executive said. The agreement listed modifications, including a communications link developed by French equipment firm Zodiac for the Harfang UAV flying in Afghanistan.
General Atomics also wrote in June 2011 to French Sens. Jacques Gautier and Daniel Reiner, setting out a $209 million offer for seven air vehicles, ground gear and service support.
The government, however, sees Dassault as holding a key position on a strategic roadmap intended to ensure interoperability in observation, surveillance, targeting and air power. That position stems from its work on the Rafale and Anglo-French cooperation, in the government's view.
Longuet said risk-reduction work on the Heron TP would start in 2013.
Dassault and DGA were unavailable for comment.
On a proposed new MALE UAV to be developed with Britain, Longuet urged a pan-European rather than a strictly bilateral approach.
The project "should accept the construction of Europe," he said. "We can't ignore countries with industrial capabilities. We'll probably have an Anglo-French project, which cannot avoid opening to other European partners."
On the Anglo-French cooperation treaty, Longuet said, a new date for a summit meeting would be set for before his birthday on Feb. 24.
"There are no doubts on defense," he said on relations between London and Paris.
EADS and Finmeccanica signed a deal in December to team on UAV development, reflecting wider discontent in Italy and Germany over the Anglo-French defense accord.
France would not develop the EADS Talarion Advanced UAV, Longuet said.
One way of bringing a European dimension into the planned Anglo-French MALE UAV would be to integrate it into the European combat aircraft environment, dominated by the Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale aircraft, Longuet said.
"If we're intelligent, we should say, 'You British work on Eurofighter with Germany, Italy and Spain, and we'll work on Rafale,'" he said. "It would be good if the MALE UAV were to be compatible with one and the other."
France will buy the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) from Airbus "in 2013 for delivery four years later," Longuet said, leaving Boeing out in the cold.
Longuet dismissed previous official denials that Airbus had been chosen as "semantic elegance."
The U.S. Air Force's $35 billion pick of Boeing over Airbus for its KC-X tender effectively shut the door on a French tender.
France is expected to order five to seven A330 MRTT units in a first-batch order that could total 14.
Paris had been considering leasing part of Britain's A330 tanker fleet, but the Libyan air campaign led French authorities to decide they wanted their own aircraft.
On domestic consolidation, Thales would likely take a 10 percent to 20 percent stake in Nexter in exchange for handing over its TDA Armements mortar and munitions business to the land systems specialist, Longuet said.
Thales' holding would be significant but would not leave Nexter "dependent," he said.
Answering a question on anxiety at DCNS, where Thales is raising its stake in the naval company to 35 percent from 25 percent, Longuet said, "Thales is not the obligatory supplier of systems. DCNS can choose its systems."
DCNS makes naval combat management systems, and executives fear Thales will impose its own products, relegating the company to being a platform maker.
Nexter and DCNS had to forge European alliances to compete with companies from emerging economies such as Brazil, but first they had to consolidate their domestic base, Longuet said. Nexter had to look to German partners, as that was where the land sector was strong, he said.
Asked about the health of French defense companies, Longuet said, "Thales is a company necessarily in more peril because it is innovative on creative subjects on a world scale. It is more difficult. It has to take risks and goes through periods of uncertainty."
Regarding arms exports, the 2011 total for France would be around 6.5 billion euros, helped by an Indian contract for modernization of its Mirage 2000 fighters, Longuet said. That compared with 5.12 billion in 2010.
In October, procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon had told lawmakers in October he expected 2011 export sales to reach 7.5 billion euros.
On export prospects for the Rafale, Longuet said a UAE decision to pick the Rafale would help sell the fighter to Kuwait and Qatar, which want to be interoperable with their neighbor's Air Force.
"They are interested" but would not be the first to commit, he said. "If they think no decision is being made [by UAE], they will look elsewhere."
Kuwait is looking at acquiring 18 to 22 jet fighters, with Qatar potentially 24, industry executives said, according to La Tribune.
The Defense Ministry appeared to harbor worries about Qatar raising its stake in Lagardère, the family-controlled company which owns 7.5 percent of EADS.
"There are fewer problems in football than in military aeronautics," Longuet said. "It's a subject."
But the decision on Qatar's shareholding in Lagardère was up to the Finance Ministry, not the Defense Ministry, he said.
A Qatari sovereign fund holds 10.07 percent of Lagardère stock, making it the largest single stockholder in the French company, and has asked for a seat on the board. Qatar bought 70 percent of the Paris Saint Germain football club for 30 million euros in May.
Julian Hale in Brussels and Tom Kington in Rome contributed to this report.
OTTAWA - A Canadian soldier has been charged with leaking secrets to a "foreign entity," court documents revealed Jan. 16.
Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, is accused of communicating over the past five years "with a foreign entity information that the government of Canada is taking measures to safeguard."
Delisle was arrested over the weekend and appeared in a Halifax court Jan. 16. He also faces a breach of trust charge under the Criminal Code.The charges were laid under the Security of Information Act.
The offenses allegedly occurred in the capital Ottawa, Halifax and in towns in Ontario and Nova Scotia provinces, said court documents. They did not, however, reveal his rank, the information he allegedly passed on, nor to whom.
Convictions under the security act carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's beleaguered premier agreed on Jan. 16 to appear in court to face a contempt notice served on him for failing to re-open corruption cases, including proceedings against the president.
The Supreme Court found Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contemptand summoned him later this week, escalating pressure on a weakened government at a time of crippling tensions with the army which some analysts believe could cost the prime minister his job and force early elections.
The court wants the government to write to Swiss authorities to demand they re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, including multi-million-dollar money-laundering allegations, after an amnesty expired in late 2009.
Judge Nasir-ul-Mulk on Jan. 16 told the Supreme Court, which met to debate how to proceed on graft charges against Zardari, that Gilani had been ordered to appear before it on Jan. 19.
Gilani agreed to the summons in the National Assembly late Jan. 16, after his ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its coalition partners passed are solution expressing full support for democracy and democratic institutions.
"The court has summoned me and I will appear before it as a mark of respect on Jan. 19," he said in an address televised by Pakistani TV channels. "There can be difference of opinion with the judiciary and the military but they cannot either pack up or derail the whole system. Rather, they have to strengthen it."
"We have struggled for democracy," he said, adding: "We have to strengthen the parliament and democratic institutions."
As the resolution was put to vote, the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) walked out of the house, with its leader in the assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali calling it a "smokescreen".
After days of high tension between the military and civilian leadership, the resolution insisted "all the state institutions must strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the constitution" and Pakistan's wellbeing should be ensured through democratic institutions.
Zardari and the PPP leadership insist the president is immune from prosecution as head of state and Maula Bakhsh Chandio, minister for law and parliamentary affairs, said they would take legal advice on how to proceed.
In the past, the PPP has accused the judiciary of overstepping its reach and colluding with the army to bring down the administration before its five-year mandate ends in 2013.
Last year, a Swiss prosecutor said that it would be "impossible" to reopen a case against Zardari, as he has immunity.
Supreme Court judges have outlined six options on how to proceed on graft charges against Zardari - which include finding Gilani in contempt, disqualifying the prime minister and president, and holding early elections.
Mulk said he had been left with "no option" but issue the notice to Gilani after the government ignored the court's demands.
It is only the second time that contempt of court proceedings have been initiated against a serving prime minister in Pakistan. In November 1997, prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also found in contempt in a case which ultimately led to the resignation of president Farooq Leghari.
Analysts are divided on whether Gilani could be convicted, pushed out to protect Zardari or show flexibility in order to avert a wider crisis.
"There is possibility now that the prime minister will be made a scapegoat and he may resign," senior lawyer Quosen Mufti told AFP. "Another possibility is that the prime minister will appear before the court ... If he gives the court a commitment on implementation the court can discharge the contempt notice. If not then he may be convicted."
Zardari's government is also under pressure over a memo soliciting American help to prevent a coup apparently feared in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan on May.
A close Zardari aide, Husain Haqqani, was forced to resign as ambassador to Washington and the Supreme Court ordered a judicial inquiry into the memo following a demand from the chief spymaster.
The army has carried out three coups in Pakistan, but analysts believe it has no appetite for another direct takeover, instead preferring to force early elections behind the scenes in concert with pressure from the courts.
The attorney general said Jan. 16 he had been unable to obtain crucial evidence - BlackBerry message data sent between Haqqani and U.S. businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who claims to have acted as a go-between on the memo. He said BlackBerry's makers refused to release such records without the customer's permission.
The commission adjourned the hearing until Jan. 24.
BRUSSELS - A NATO warship went to the rescue this weekend of an Iranian-flagged vessel whose engine broke down just days after its rescue from pirates by another NATO ship, the alliance said Jan. 16.
An Italian ship, the ITS Grecale, offered the five Iranian and nine Pakistani crew food and water and worked through the night to fix the engine, but to no avail, NATO said in a statement.
"The engine was too badly damaged to repair at sea," the statement said.
"NATO offered to transfer the crew to the closest port, but they chose to stay with their vessel," it added. The ITS Grecale "is remaining in the area to monitor the situation, ready to provide further assistance if required."
The ship had been released from suspected Somali pirates on Jan. 7 by a Danish warship, the HDMS Absalon.
That operation came days after a U.S. warship, the USS Carney, intercepted the Indian-flagged dhow Al-Qashmi off the southwestern coast of Oman and freed its 20 Indian crew members.
The weekend assistance comes amid heightened tensions between the international community and Tehran.
JERU.S.ALEM - Israel and the United States opted to delay a major joint military exercise because of regional tensions and instability, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Jan. 16.
"The entire world understands that we had to postpone this exercise because of political and regional uncertainties, as well as the tensions and instability prevailing in the region," Lieberman told public radio.
"It's only a delay, the exercise will take place by the end of the year," he added, speaking from Warsaw where he was on an official visit.
Speaking in Jerusalem at an Independence faction meeting, Defence Minister Ehud Barak noted later that talks with the U.S. on postponing the exercise had began a month ago.
"In recent days, we reached the conclusion that it would be right to postpone it, this will enable us to better prepare for it," he said in comments relayed by his office.
He added that the drill will probably take place in the second half of2012, and constitutes "another layer of our deep and important security ties with the U.S."
On Jan. 15, a senior Israeli security official confirmed that the exercise, codenamed "Austere Challenge 12," which had been scheduled for spring, was now being put back to late 2012.
The joint maneuver was to have been the biggest yet between the two allies and was seen as an opportunity to display their joint military strength at a time of growing concern about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But it was to come at a time of rising tensions over Iran's nuclear program, which Israel, Washington and much of the international community believe masks a weapons drive.
The United States is seeking tough new sanctions against Tehran, including its oil exports and financial institutions, and Iran has responded by threatening to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
On Jan. 15, two Israeli officials questioned whether the international community, and the United States in particular, were pushing hard enough for new sanctions.
Lieberman on Jan. 16 also called for speedier action, saying now "is the time for the international community to move from words to actions."
And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the current regime of EU and U.S. sanctions are not enough to force Tehran to halt its nuclear program.
"As long as there won't be real and effective sanctions against Iran's petroleum industry and central bank, there will be no real effect on Iran's nuclear program," Netanyahu told MPs at a parliamentary committee on Jan. 16, with his remarks transmitted by a spokesman.
But Barak warned against publicly criticizing the U.S. on its course of action against Iran.
"On sanctions and the preparations for other options that could become relevant, this administration is definitely acting much more than in the past," he told his faction members.
"Alongside the mutual respect in the (U.S.-Israel) discourse, and alongside respecting each other's freedom of decision, I think we need to speak clearly in closed chambers, and publicly be careful about respecting the other, and refrain from public criticism of a government that at the end of the day sees things similarly to us, and is acting to stop Iran from becoming nuclear," he said.
Asked about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, Lieberman said it was not for Israel "to take on a mission that is one for the international community, but it must keep all options on the table."
"Iran is not a threat to Israel alone. For the Gulf countries, Iran is also problem number one," he said. "Iran has taken control of Iraq and wants to do the same in Saudi Arabia to be able to dictate energy policy in the whole world."
Lieberman also accused Tehran of aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on pro-democracy activists, saying his regime "wouldn't last a week without Tehran's help."
Israel has made no secret of its desire to see crippling sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to halt its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for civilian energy and medical purposes alone. But it has also kept open the possibility of military action to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Israel has been linked in media reports to both a computer worm that setback the nuclear program and a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.