During a press conference in Rome, on March 21, MBDA introduced its 2018 economical results, its future plans and products lines. At the event were present Antoine Bouvier, MBDA CEO, and Mr. Pasquale Di Bartolomeo, Managing Director of MBDA Italy, and Executive Group Director Sales & Business Development of the Group.
Antoine Bouvier underlined as MBDA Group recorded in 2018 a sixth year in a row of excellent growth, confirming the soundness of the Group strategies. In 2018 it was assessed a change in the markets, with increased aggressiveness of the competitors, while MBDA met some difficulties in the export field, due to the position of Germany in the deal of the Meteor missiles for Saudi Arabia. He was anyway confident that in a spirit of cooperation between France and Germany the problem could be solved, of course in the respect of the different political strategies of each country. We remember that MBDA is controlled by BAE Systems (37.5%), Airbus (37.5%) and Leonardo (25%).
The forecasts for 2019 are good, and include an increase of the deliveries, and then of the revenues. Antoine Bouvier said: “Our strong global financial performance and our successes on our markets is reflective of the strategic importance of the missile sector to Europe’s nations. This can only be achieved by the right combination of national programmes and by co-operation across Europe’s nations, as without this balance, Europe will lack the critical size of its defence technological and industrial base to autonomously develop the technologies necessary for the operational performance of our armed forces.”
For the sixth year in a row, orders (at 4 billion Euros) were more than the revenues (3.2 billion), while the backlog reached 17.4 billion, a record for this company. The 2018 balance showed a prevalence of the domestic markets (2.5 billion) over the export. MBDA is looking to increase its development programmes, and for 2019 plans to hire about 1,000 new personnel, to be added to the 1,200 new jobs created in 2018.
At present, MBDA considers necessary to start a renewal of its product range, and thus to launch an investment process. This considering that, unfortunately, the European Union provides few resources for such initiatives, contrary to what happens in the USA, were are located the two major competitors of MBDA, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
Significant domestic orders in 2018 included a contract from the French DGA to develop the next generation of the MICA air-to-air missile, the renewal of in-service support for the Aster missile across France, Italy and the UK, upgrade and maintenance work on Taurus in Spain, among others. Major export orders included the weaponisation of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft and NH90 helicopters ordered by Qatar, as well as further export orders of Taurus, MMP and Mistral.
Important domestic milestones in 2018 that pave the way for future successes include the creation of a joint venture to pursue the next generation Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (TLVS) for Germany. The formal opening of a new manufacturing facility in Bolton in July 2018 by the UK Secretary of State for Defence marked the completion of five years of development and leaves the company well placed to grow revenue in the future. The company also took steps in 2018 to secure European sovereignty in its supply chain, including the joint purchase, together with Soitec of France, of Dolphin Integration, a specialist of System on Chip (SoC) solutions for low power computing applications.
The past year also saw MBDA deliver vital new operational capabilities to its armed forces customers, including: the operational deployment of MMP system with the French Army; the entry into service of Sea Ceptor with the Royal Navy and major progress on the Land Ceptor system for the British Army; the first firing trials of the Marte ER anti-ship missile; and the entry into service of Meteor, Storm Shadow and Brimstone onto the Eurofighter (the RAF Centurion programme). 2018 also saw MMP chosen as the missile of reference for the development of a Beyond Line Of Sight capability sovereign to Europe through the sharing of a common doctrine, training and interoperability among European forces under the new Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework of the European Union.
Between the main new programs for the future, Di Bartolomeo mentioned the MICA NG air-to-air missile, which come from a requisite expressed by the French Air Force, and whose development contract has been signed in November 2018, with a scheduled introduction into service from 2026. The new missile is absolutely identical to the old one, from an external point of view, and maintains the same weight and balance, also to reduce costs and timings, but the electronic component will be all new. Then, there is the Brimstone, that following a request from the UK will be integrated on the new Apache helicopters, in place of the US Hellfire. Important is also the anti-shipping missile Marte ER, which is destined to become a multi-platform product, a missile that nobody is today able to offer. It will be certified for being employed on helicopters (a contract with Qatar for the NH-90), on ground coasts defences, on ships, and also on aircraft, as Kuwait should require it to be integrated in its future Eurofighter aircraft, and it is possible that the requisite is published this year. In 2018 MBDA recorded the first launch, which had excellent results, and during which the company was able to concentrated test points usually carried out with three launches.
With the Italian Navy, MBDA is working to realize the Teseo EVO, and anti-shipping missile developed from the current Teseo, and which will be equipped with a radar AESA as guidance system. This programme is currently classified, and no data are available, but MBDA will work together with Leonardo, as strategic technological supplier, just for the AESA technology, as MBDA considered much more efficient to take advantage of the cooperation from Leonardo, which is a stakeholder, and also has already gained a solid competence in this field. The Teseo EVO could be an intermediate step, and a complement in the road to the development of the FC/ASW (Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon) anti-shipping missile, a completely new weapon whose development was signed by Great Britain and France in 2017, and whose end of the study phase will be completed in 2020.
For what concerns the Meteor air-to-air long range missile, the UK and Italy requested the F-35 JPO office in Washington the authorization to integrate it in their F-35A and B models. The request has been approved, and concerns the Block 4 aircraft; the integration programme with Lockheed Martin will take several years and, together with the integration of the Spear missile (requested by the RAF), should be completed by 2025. About the air defence missile system SAMP-T NG (New Generation), Italy will replace the Arabel radar with the Leonardo Kronos High Power, while France selected the Thales GF-300. For the Aster missile, that in 2018 saw the sign from the three countries involved (France, Italy and UK) of the new support contract, Italy and France are talking in order to reach common requisites about its future development.
Finally, last but not least, there is the CAMM ER, a UK-Italy programme which is very important for MBDA, and which recently suffered for some problems coming from the Italian Government. In Italy, the CAMM ER has been selected to replace the old Skyguard (Army) and Spade (Air Force) air defence systems, and it has been labelled as a priority by the Italian defence. However, the new Government elected in March 2018 decided to put it in stand-by, cancelling the necessary funds, which were already approved. However, as affirmed by Di Bartolomeo: “Industry must support its client’s needs, and MBDA being partner is going ahead with the programme in spite of the Italian slow down. MBDA is confident that in 2019, may be in few months, the programme will be finalized. The Italian Government is working to find the necessary funds, while the Defence confirmed the operational urgency of this programme.” The first launch of this missile, equipped with an Avio engine, is still scheduled for 2019, while also Poland (plus Qatar, Spain and others) seems to be very interested in this product.
Finally, some words were spent also on the future sixth generation European fighters. MBDA UK, together with BAE Systems, Leonardo UK and Rolls-Royce, is a first level partner of the Tempest project. At the same time, MBDA France is partner in the French-German project FCAS (Future Combat Air System), which was joined also by Spain. However, these two participations are well separated, and in each of these programmes MBDA participates maintaining an ‘eyes only’ approach in each of the two working groups. In practise, this approach replicates what happened with the Meteor missile in the Eurofighter, Rafale and Gripen programmes. For these two future aircraft is highly probable that MBDA will develop a totally new air-to-air missile, but now is really too early to speak about it.