ISTRES, France — French defense officials were in the United States recently for talks on a possible procurement of the Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV, a defense official here said Dec. 19.
The French officials were in “Washington D.C. last week” for discussions on the General Atomics’ Reaper under the Foreign Military Sales program, the official told journalists at a press conference for the French-led Neuron UCAV demonstrator program.
France’s previous administration shelved the Reaper in favor of the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP for an interim MALE UAV. But the arrival of the Socialist government in June led to a rejection of the Heron TP selection and a fresh look at the U.S.-built drone.
The interim MALE UAV is intended to fill a capability gap until a new generation air vehicle is built with Britain under a cooperative program, which French officials say is open to other European partners.
The official was speaking after a high-profile presentation of the stealthy, swept-wing Neuron air vehicle, which made a 10-minute autonomous flight at the flight test center of the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office.
Dassault Aviation is the prime contractor on the Neuron, while the DGA is the lead agency for the six countries signed up to the program — France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Dassault chief executive Charles Edelstenne highlighted the European cooperation aspect of the 405 million euro ($538 million) program, half of which came from France.
The cooperative program drew on four conditions, he said. The conditions were a strong political and budgetary commitment from the six countries; a clear and simple program management structure with one government agency and one prime contractor; industrial contributions based on established competence; and finally use of a single common industrial language on a cooperative virtual platform.
The competences developed on the Neuron will feed into work on a next generation combat aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, and which would be a European cooperative project, Edelstenne said.
Italy is keen to continue work on any follow-on program, while Germany shows no real signs of interest for the time being, the defense official said.
Dassault leads the industrial partners Alenia Aermacchi for Italy, EADS CASA for Spain, Hellenic Aerospace Industry for Greece, Ruag for Switzerland, Saab for Sweden.
France launched the Neuron project in 2003. The other countries signed up later, and a contract was signed in 2006.
The Neuron air vehicle will now undergo a two-year flight test campaign, with flights in France, Sweden and Italy, including weapons launch.