By Paolo Valpolini
A quite different yearly press conference compared to the past editions the one held by MBDA at the Palais Brongniart, which in the past hosted the Paris Stock Exchange.
The Russian war against Ukraine was obviously one of the leading subjects in the speech of Eric Béranger, the company CEO. “We are now in a new world, we have the war at our door step, and we must defend our way of life even with military means as this crisis shows that sovereignty is not a given, and that defence is a cornerstone of liberty,” said in his opening remarks. Underlining that his company is at the heart of challenges, he also highlighted the importance of having weapons that a country can use or eventually provide to third nations without vetoes from the originating party, hence the reference to MBDA being a tool of sovereignty, as it provides European-made capabilities to European countries, and not only, “sovereignty being in my view the ability to maintain freedom of decision and freedom of action,” the MBDA CEO stated.
Although no details were provided Mr. Béranger stated that MBDA has been asked to do and is doing things related to the current crisis, the only information being that the company was requested to cope with some Urgent Operational Requirements.
Responding to two successive crisis was a challenge for the European missile company, which had to mobilise its supply chain, in order to anticipate, manage and avoid disruptions, in order to ensure timely deliveries.
To cope with its mission MBDA continued investing even in 2021, in order to carry its mission which is providing military forces with the capacity to gain superiority over its opponents. Investment and partnership are in the company DNA, its participation in multiple multinational programmes involving also other industrial players , the integration of its missiles into new platforms, such as that of the Spear and Meteor in the US-designed F-35 which involves the UK and Italy, and the participation to numerous calls for programmes financed by European Defence Funds (EDF) shows it well. MBDA is also present in programmes supported by EDF predecessors, such as PESCO and EDIDP. “We are leading two multinational and multi-industrial initiatives, one in the anti-hypersonic domain, the TWISTER (Timely Warning and Interception with Space-based TheatER) which involves 51 companies from 14 countries, and the Beyond-Line-Of-Sight MMP, with 23 partners from 11 countries,” he underlined, both programmes having been started under the auspices of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation). The link with Europe was further reinforced in 2021 with the opening of the MBDA office in Brussels.
Coming to financial results, 2021 market a record year in terms of revenues as MBDA overcame for the first time the 4 billion Euro mark, reaching 4.2 billion, with a 5.1 billion order intake, that allowed to partly recover the low of 2020 due to the pandemic that did not allowed commercial teams to travel worldwide, the company order book having reached 17.8 billion Euros on 31 December 2021. Greece was definitely a key customer last year, having signed for a package including MICA, Meteor and Exocet, while the naval sector was successful in Brazil, Canada, Egypt and an undisclosed country.
Considering the recent statements by many European countries on defence spending increases, and underlining the U-turn by Germany, Eric Béranger wished that this money will be spend mostly if not all within Europe, which would mean strengthening the Old Continent sovereignty. He also considers important that at least part of that money will be invested in technological developments that will allow the European defence industry to maintain superiority in critical areas.
Answering questions from the audience he stated that it is too early to draw lessons from the war in Ukraine, but definitely should we be faced with a prolonged high intensity war the question will not be a dilemma between technology or mass, as we will need both technology and mass.
Artificial Intelligence is definitely part of today game and the acquisition of stakes in Numalis in 2020 shows MBDA commitment in this field. Another key area is that of lasers, Béranger confirming the moves of MBDA together with Safran to acquire a majority stake in CILAS, the French laser specialist currently involved in the HELMA-P (High Energy Laser for Multiple Applications-Power) for the French Navy. He also mentioned the teaming of MBDA with ALPhANOV to develop and exploit a vulnerability test facility that allows to characterise the effects of laser beams on any type of materiel, leading to identify which part of a target should be hit to optimise its neutralisation.
Air defence and ballistic missile defence remain one of the company fields of action, its Aster family with the recently decided upgrades and further developments now in the pipeline being a major player. What will happen in Germany, considering recent statements about improving Bundeswehr BMD capabilities remains to be seen, the CEO did not commented on media news about possible solutions coming from Israel. What is sure is that NATO countries which looked to Russia to improve their air defences will not be able to continue on that path for quite a long time, and although Mr. Béranger clearly expressed its preference for real facts rather than resolutions, he conceded that talks have re-started between France, Italy and Turkey on the AD issue which has been around for a long time.
Photo courtesy MBDA © Mourad Cherfi