By Pierre Tran
Paris – It was natural for the U.S. president, Joe Biden, to encourage the Swiss authorities to opt for an American fighter jet in the Swiss competition, Florence Parly, armed forces minister said July 2.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” she told the defense journalists association in the elegant ministerial offices at Brienne House, when asked about Biden’s reported role in the Swiss selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter.
The Swiss Federal Council said June 30 the F-35 had been picked over competing offers of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, with the latter pitched by the German Airbus unit.
There were media reports that Biden called on Switzerland to pick a U.S. fighter jet when he flew to Geneva for a June 16 summit meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“It is the law of competition,” Parly said. France could not win every deal.
The arms export market was “extremely competitive,” she said, so it was not news that each country sought to support its “excellent industrial offering.”
When a president was abroad, it was part of the job to help win an arms export deal, she said.
Promoting French arms exports was an important part of her ministerial duties, she said, even if she was not a president.
There had been recent success in Europe, and the year was not over, she said.
Finland is due to decide by the end of the year which fighter jet to replace an aging fleet of F-18s. France won a deal to supply new and secondhand Rafales to Greece.
Parly met March 22 her Swiss counterpart, Viola Amherd, in Berne, with the ministers discussing greater cooperation, including security of the skies, cybersecurity, and nuclear, bacteriological and chemical warfare, and increasing women’s role in the services.
France had offered the Rafale and SAMP/T surface-to-air missile from Eurosam, a Franco-Italian joint-venture of MBDA and Thales. Switzerland picked the Raytheon Patriot.
Parly had earlier pointed up the importance of the June 25 visit of U.S. state secretary, Anthony Blinken, which signaled full support for France.
There was also U.S. help in the sub-Saharan Sahel region, with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, inflight refueling, and air transport to back French forces, she said.
France was “highly committed” to delivering 12 submarines to Australia and significant local content was “very important,” she said, when asked about Australian calls for cancellation of the naval project, which was reported to be late and costly.
There have been serious French efforts in the last few months to meet Australian demands on the submarine project, which was “highly strategic” to meeting the threat in the Pacific zone, she said.
President Emmanuel Macron met June 15 the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, at the Elysées office, and the French head of state said the French government and industry were committed to going “further and faster” on the attack submarines, the pillar of the partnership between the two countries.
Morrison told reporters, “I appreciate the direct role that he (Macron) has played in ensuring that we’ve seen a much-improved position come forward from Naval over the last six months,’ Mail Online website reported June 16.
‘But there is still a long way to go,” he said.
The Australian defense minister, Greg Moriarty, was reported to be looking at options if the submarine contract with France were cancelled.
On cooperation with Germany, Parly said talks could be resumed on the bilateral projects Main Ground Weapon System and Maritime Airborne Warfare System, as the German parliament had approved funds for work on the Future Combat Air System.
Support for the FCAS project had been the top priority.
Berlin’s order for a five-strong fleet of P-8A Poseidon has sparked French concern a plan to build a European maritime patrol aircraft in the MAWS project has been shot down.
The German Poseidon order may be a “gap filler,” but that remained to be seen, she said.
On the MGWS project, Nexter of France, and German partners Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall were in talks to agree the industrial organization, she said, and perhaps an agreement could be reached in the second half of the year.
MGWS is a plan to replace the French Leclerc and German Leopard 2 heavy tanks.