Following the 2010 Lancaster House treaties and operations in Libya, interoperability with France continues to improve—indeed, I have further examples of co-operation with our French allies. Two weeks ago, a Royal Navy helicopter operating from a French frigate as a part of Operation Atalanta played a significant role in the arrest of 12 Somali pirates. As I said, last weekend at the request of President Hollande we agreed to provide two RAF C-17s to support the deployment of French troops and equipment to Mali. We are working successfully to establish the combined joint expeditionary force—CJEF—which is planned to reach full operating capability in 2016. In the longer term we are taking forward a comprehensive portfolio of co-operation on equipment and capabilities that will provide both nations with the capabilities to meet the needs of our expeditionary forces including, for instance, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles known as complex weapons.
In the light of events in recent days in Mali and British logistical support for the French operation there, will the Minister say a little more about what is being done to improve co-operation specifically on the sharing and deployment of military equipment?
On the deployment of military equipment, we are using the C-17s to deploy French military equipment. On joint working, we are particularly looking at Watchkeeper—an unmanned aerial vehicle—and future combat air systems, which are looking at very complex issues. We are also, of course, working together on the A400M.
In October 2010 the Prime Minister said that switching to the F-35C would increase operability with the French carrier. Given that the French do not have the right weapons, that their pilots would not be trained on the F-35, and that the F-35 could not land or take off on the Charles de Gaulle, what exactly did the Prime Minister mean?
Switching variant does not make any difference to whether or not the aircraft could land on the Charles de Gaulle. We are co-operating with the Charles de Gaulle and we do not see the two aircraft carriers as being interoperable; we see them as separate but linked assets, and we certainly support the French. Indeed, during Exercise Corsican Lion, the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mr Dunne and I had lunch on the Charles de Gaulle, and very good it was too. I assure hon. Members that we discussed equipment, interoperability and other matters.