Berlin, Paris tout initiative to buy longer-range missiles

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - France, Germany and Poland announced plans on Monday to join forces to buy longer-range precision weapons to fill a gap in European arsenals that they say has been exposed by Russia's war in Ukraine.

The defence ministers from the three countries said they would set up a mechanism to procure "deep precision strike weapons" such as cruise missiles, which other European powers could join.

Cruise missiles with a range of several hundred kilometres have seen a huge revival since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with Moscow launching cross-border strikes and Kyiv seeking to hit back at targets inside Russian territory.

"Deep precision strike weapons are a serious capability gap in Europe," German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said after meeting his French and Polish counterparts in Paris - the first session of the so-called Weimar triangle grouping at that level since 2015.

"Until the (NATO) summit in Washington, we aim to bring together a group of like-minded European countries who agree to plug this gap in the medium to long term," Pistorius added.

The first formal step would be the group signing of a letter of intent at that NATO summit in July, he said.

France's Defence Minister, Sebastien Lecornu, said the letter aimed to assess what longer-range capabilities countries and companies had.

Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles fly low over the ground, making them harder to detect by radar.

Europe's existing stocks of cruise missiles include relatively old and expensive systems such as Britain's Storm Shadow, France's Scalp and Germany's Taurus.

There have been divisions over whether to supply them to Ukraine amid fears that strikes deep into Russian territory with European-sourced weapons could escalate the war into a regional conflict.

Berlin has rejected demands to send the Taurus to Ukraine while London and Paris have supplied Kyiv with their cruise missiles.

In January, France pledged to increase deliveries of the Scalp, which can travel 250 km, knowing that they could be used to hit targets inside Russia.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and John Irish; Editing by Andrew Heavens)