Major Defense Merger Could Spur a Search for New Partnerships at Paris Air Show

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The Patrouille de France air demonstration team performs a flyby to signify the official start of the Paris Air Show June 19, 2017 at Le Bourget, France. Held every year, the Paris Air Show represents a unique opportunity for the United States to showcase its leadership in aerospace technologies. (Ryan Crane/U.S. Air Force)
The Patrouille de France air demonstration team performs a flyby to signify the official start of the Paris Air Show June 19, 2017 at Le Bourget, France. Held every year, the Paris Air Show represents a unique opportunity for the United States to showcase its leadership in aerospace technologies. (Ryan Crane/U.S. Air Force)

The planned Raytheon-UTC merger could be the push international companies in the defense community need to test new deals at the upcoming Paris Air Show, according to a top analyst.

Some experts think the buzz surrounding the Raytheon-UTC news -- which would create a new defense and aerospace giant that may rank second behind Boeing Co. -- will spur other companies to search for new partnerships.

The biennial air show will take place June 17-20 at France's Paris Airport-Le Bourget.

"The bar for size and critical mass has just gotten higher," Richard Aboulafia, vice president and analyst at the Teal Group, said in a recent phone interview with Military.com. "Anything could be a surprise."

He noted that the Paris Air Show, much like the Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K., focuses on the commercial side, but military negotiations take place behind the scenes.

"I think if you make a surprise announcement at an air show, from a [U.S.] military standpoint, you look like an amateur," Aboulafia said, adding that most military deals aren't publicized as much as commercial sales.

"The commercial side is hit-you-on-the-head obvious," he said. "On the military side, it's [about] positioning, posturing, cooperation. It's not as obvious."

But the proposed merger to create "Raytheon Technologies Corporation" sometime in 2020, pending government approval, will have everyone, including adversaries, watching as another large American defense firm takes shape.

"Let's see what other people are doing and what other alignments may be created" as this gathering happens in Paris, Aboulafia said.

The Europeans are under pressure to make news on the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a potential sixth-generation fighter that could be operational sometime between the 2030s and 2040s.

Last year at the Farnborough show, the United Kingdom unveiled its own breakout, Tempest, the optionally manned, next-generation fighter intended to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon. The proposal -- which experts say looks like a mix between a fifth-and-sixth-gen fighter -- is a joint venture between BAE Systems, Leonardo, Rolls-Royce and MBDA. It's expected to fly by 2035.

But the show isn't just for NATO allies and partners.

"Teaming arrangements of near-peer adversaries is something to watch for," Aboulafia said, referring to Russia and China, which may seek to partner with other countries with similar strategic interests.

Unexpected alliances have happened before.

Aboulafia cited Saudi Arabia and Ukraine joining to create the Antonov/Taqnia An-132 military transport plane. It was seen as an unlikely pairing, given that it could displease neighboring Russia. The project was suspended this year over what experts said was Saudi Arabia's attempt to mend ties with Russia.

Turkey is a wild card this year, Aboulafia said. It could seek new business, given the recent news that it plans to proceed with its purchase of Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile system, straining its ties with the U.S. and NATO and prompting its gradual removal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

The U.S. will continue to open doors to new partnerships, and not just for big programs like the F-35. The Pentagon for years has aimed to better streamline and expedite its foreign military sales -- from drones to missile systems -- and be the lead arms seller in the Middle East to get ahead of Russia and China.

In an era of "great power competition," positioning matters, Aboulafia said. It's about "how people are positioning themselves for future exports," he said.

"The objective of the U.S. is to be the guy with the pitchfork and horns on the shoulder saying, 'You want to buy our systems,'" he continued. "And if that doesn't work, then you say, 'If you want to build your next-generation systems, you want to build them with us.'"

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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