France says it must use fewer U.S. parts in its weapons systems

PARIS (Reuters) - France must cut its dependence on U.S. components in its weapons systems to minimize Washington’s ability to block its arms exports, its defense minister said on Thursday.

French Defence minister Florence Parly and her Finnish counterpart Jussi Niinisto (not pictured) during a joint news conference in Helsinki, Finland, August 23, 2018. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen/via REUTERS

U.S. export control laws can be used to limit European weapons sales if even small components come from U.S. suppliers. That legislation was in place prior to Donald Trump’s presidency, but the industry has grown increasingly worried that his administration is acting to halt exports that might have been permitted in the past.

Washington has this year blocked the sale to Egypt of French-made SCALP cruise missiles, which contain a U.S. part.

Without giving specific examples, Defence Minister Florence Parly said France needed to “gradually wean ourselves off our reliance on a certain number of American parts.”

“We have had trade difficulties linked to the prospects for exports. And we know that these difficulties are linked to strategic questions and often to problems of commercial rivalry,” she told a small group of journalists.

She was quizzed on the subject in July by parliament’s defense committee.

Asked at that time by one lawmaker about the blocked SCALP sale, Parly said: “We are at the mercy of the Americans.”

Parly said Washington’s actions underlined the need to minimize dependence on U.S. parts in the Future Combat Air System (SCAF) project - Europe’s next-generation combat jet which France and Germany are taking the lead in developing.

France’s Dassault Aviation and European planemaker Airbus have signed a deal to work together on the jet, which is expected to be at the center of a broader weapons system capable of commanding a squadron of drones.

France’s air force uses Reaper drones, built by U.S. firm General Atomics, in its counter-terrorism operations against Islamist militants. Parly said France had needed U.S. congressional approval to arm the drones.

“Is that satisfactory? No. But we don’t have any choice,” she said.

Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer; writing by Richard Lough; editing by John Irish and John Stonestreet