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Conflicting signals

Posted by Richard Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Britain and the United States plan to deepen collaboration in defence research with the creation of a groundbreaking technology alliance to undertake work in network and information sciences.

So reports DefenseNews this week, retailing that industry and academia from both sides of the Atlantic have been invited to collaborate with the US Army Research Laboratory and the MoD in a single team known as the International Technology Alliance (ITA).

The team, we are told, is slated to investigate four areas of emerging technologies, including "network theory", and the first phase of the programme is expected to cost about $150 million. It could run for up to 10 years with funding split 50-50 between the two governments.

What is interesting is that this is old news, the details having been finalised in 29 July this year, yet only now do we see any publicity. One wonders if this is more government spin to counter charges that it has adopted a "Europe first" policy on defence procurement.

Certainly, none of the US big-hitters seem interested, with Northrop and Raytheon telling Defense News they would not be submitting proposals. And the money on offer – by defence standards – is not even small change, a fraction of the £5.8 billion so far wasted by the MoD on European projects.

While this might suit MoD propaganda purposes though, Janes Weekly reports that a delegation of UK MPs have recently returned from a little-publicised visit to Washington, DC, where they discussed the problems of military technology transfer.

They claim that US congressmen do not want to see the UK "frozen out" of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme and, speaking to their counterparts in the US, have highlighted MoD concerns that the UK will not have full access to JSF technology and thus be unable to maintain or modify its own aircraft.

The delegation included Peter Viggers (MP for Gosport), who said the technology transfer issue was "worrying for the defence industry and for the UK government", and accepted it was having a delaying effect on the future aircraft carrier programme.

So, on the one hand, we see a penny-ante little scheme between the US and UK, which probably does not even involve any restricted material while, on the other, we have US reluctance to share technology holding up a multi-billion flagship programme.

Conflicting signals there may be, but the message is pretty clear.

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