The Airbus A400M transporter plane would fill a major hole in the EU’s defence capability, making the Union’s forces less reliant on US transport planes and more able to deploy the planned Rapid Reaction Force, due to be operational in 2003. EU and US firms have been calling for better access to each other’s markets in response to declining defence spending. In such an environment, firms had to rationalise or to expand the market. “For the Europeans that means the US,” Harris said.European defence group EADS, which owns 80% of Airbus, is among those leading the way.EADS co-chairman Jean-Luc Lagardere recently called on member states to participate in the controversial US missile defence plan, describing it as a major “growth driver” in the defence sector.But Harris, in Brussels for a defence industry conference, cast doubt on whether the Airbus A400M transporter – a military version of its civilian jet – could be given the go-ahead at Le Bourget airshow next month due to delays in funding from Germany and other key backers. “Whether they could launch at Paris is an open question,” he said. “They need 180 firm commitments to start the programme.”Airbus expects to sell 229 of the aircraft but industry experts warn that the delays may result in some countries buying its rival – built by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.Harris said that Germany faced particular problems in finding the funds because it faces a proliferation of difficult and costly challenges – including a commitment to buy the Eurofighter jet and the MEADS missile system while converting its army into a professional force. “There’s a lot of pressure on a shrinking budget,” Harris said. Scott Harris, vice-president for planning and analysis at Lockheed Martin, told European Voice that governments have an essential role to play in promoting further integration in the defence sector despite major consolidation in the industry in recent years.”Governments have to set out the rules of the road,” said Harris, who pinpointed technology sharing, export controls and investment rules as examples of where member states could help bridge the transatlantic divide.The US Department of Defense has blocked joint ventures between European and Amerian defence firms over concerns about access to US military technology.But Harris cited the MEADS missile project, a collaboration between German, Italian and US defence contractors, as an example of where governments had been able to overcome technical and political barriers to cooperation. “The German and Italian governments worked out a regime for technology transfer over time which was successful. Only governments can do that, industry can’t,” Harris argued.