France’s defense procurement agency, the DGA, announced on January 12 the earlier awarding on December 22 of a pair of 18-month, €10.9 million ($11.8 million) contracts for the study of maritime patrol aircraft variants to Airbus and Dassault. The aim is to examine replacement options for the French Navy’s current fleet of 22 1990s-vintage Atlantique ATL2 maritime patrol aircraft operated from the Lann-Bihoue naval air base. A total of 18 units from this fleet are being upgraded to Standard 6 configuration thereby enabling the fleet to remain in service through 2032.
The variants being examined involve the Airbus A320neo and Dassault’s Falcon 10X platforms. The contract calls for each aerospace manufacturer to provide an economically attractive solution to the French Navy’s operational needs post-2030.
The future maritime patrol system – or “Patmar” as it is referred to by the DGA – is expected to replace the Atlantiques in the 2030s and, if the studies are deemed satisfactory, will result in a procurement program being launched in 2026.
La DGA a notifié à @AirbusDefence & @Dassault_OnAir 2 études d'architecture de système de patrouille maritime futur. Sur la base d'un de leurs avions (A320neo et Falcon 10X), chacun proposera une solution répondant au besoin de @MarineNationale à l'horizon post-2030. pic.twitter.com/9BYGaXGHA8
— Direction générale de l'armement (@DGA) January 12, 2023
The announcement by the DGA casts further doubt on the floundering Franco-German Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) joint initiative. That effort was to be officially launched post-2025, allowing for a new maritime patrol capability by 2030.
But in July 2021, reports emerged stating that French officials had decided to withdraw from the project due to Germany’s decision to procure Boeing-produced P-8A Poseidon MPAs as a bridge solution, enabling the German Navy to retire its obsolete fleet of P-3C Orions by 2025. Reports indicated that French pique at the German decision had prompted officials to examine an alternative based on Dassault’s Falcon 10X platform.
However, no official statement related to the program from either France’s or Germany’s defense ministries was released, thus indicating that the window for MAWS appeared to remain open.
Whether France is moving on with its own initiative, sending a message to Germany by announcing the contract studies in the hopes of drawing Berlin back into the fold, or hedging between the unilateral and bilateral pathways remains to be seen. The DGA did say its Patmar studies should remain open to cooperation with other interested partners.
Yet despite German officials insisting at the June 2022 ILA Berlin Air Show that the P-8 acquisition serves a 10-year interim solution and does not reflect an abandonment of MAWS, France is signaling an intent to strike out on its own. If Germany or another European partner should follow its lead and join in a pooled procurement down the line, so much the better from Paris’ perspective. In the meantime, however, its MPA replacement effort is not standing still.