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Notebook: French Lawmakers Battle over UAV Pick

Jan. 25, 2012 - 02:52PM   |  
By PIERRE TRAN   |   Comments
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PARIS — The French lower-house National Assembly is supporting a government decision to in December rejected a Senate amendment calling for France to buy the General Atomics Reaper unmanned aircraft and supported supports a government decision to buy Heron TP unmanned aircraft rather than from Dassault Aviation and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) U.S.-built Reapers.

Lawmakers voted to return to the 2012 defense equipment budget the 80 million euros ($104 million) that the French Senate had tried to move into technology studies in a bid to reverse the Heron TP selection in favor of the Reaper, built in California by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Parliament member Jean-Claude Viollet said Restoring the funds for the French and Israeli-built Heron TP would show “confirm the government’s initial choice, showing the assembly’s determination, at a time when our country is hard hit by the crisis, to preserve our industry and jobs, in one of the high-technology sectors which has strong strategic significance,” said Parliament member Jean-Claude Viollet.

Heron TP aircraft are built by Dassault Aviation and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).are In a two-page interview in the French daily paper Le Figaro, Dassault Executive Chairman Charles Edelstenne said, Dec. 12, “I give my commitment this Franco-Israeli project will keep all its promises, as much in terms of price as timing and performance. I know expectations run high.”

Le Figaro is owned by the Dassault family,

Dassault-IAI has offered seven Heron TP medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones, 2,000 flight hours a year, two ground stations and 10 years’ support at 318 million euros, with a development and integration “road map” for fitting French sensors and communications worth a further 50 million euros, totaling 368 million euros.

The road map included arming the air vehicle with French weapons.

Sens. Xavier Pintat and Daniel Reiner wrote in a Senate report on the 2012 defense budget that they thought the 50 million euros for French modification was not enough and should be treated with great caution. That figure compared with a Dassault 2010 offer of 330 million euros for installing a French payload on the Heron TP, worth a total 700 million euros.

“We will be very vigilant on the conduct of the program,” said Reiner, a socialist senator.

It remained to be seen what agreement Dassault and IAI would reach on the Heron TP, and whether the work for French industry would be “useful and intelligent,” he said. One of the main reasons put forward by Dassault in the choice of the Heron TP was creation of an industrial competence in MALE drones.

Senators voted Nov. 29 for an amendment that called for procurement of the Reaper as a “gap filler” interim solution, while diverting funds for research into a next-generation combat unmanned plane.

The amendment authors criticized the pick of the Heron TP on the grounds that it failed to meet French forces’ operational needs, cost more and lacked the performance of the Reaper.

Edelstenne, however, said the Heron TP choice was important as it allowed Dassault, under a Franco-Israeli intergovernmental agreement, to benefit from a full transfer of IAI know-how. That would allow a French industrial sector to develop, putting France on a sound footing in Anglo-French cooperation in the MALE aircraft sector, he said.

General Atomics had earlier made a written offer to senatorsSens. .Jacques Gautier and Reiner for the MQ-9 Predator B, or Reaper, in the block 5 version, after presenting the UAV to the senators at the Paris Airshow in June.

That offer was valued at 209 million euros for seven UAVs, two ground stations, support for 10 years and 2,000 flight hours per year. Integrating a French payload would add 88 million euros, making a total 297 million euros. The first Reaper system of four units could be delivered within 12 months.

This story appeared in the January-February issue of C4ISR Journal.

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