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3 European Firms Urge MALE UAV Development

Jun. 17, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By TOM KINGTON and ANDREW CHUTER   |   Comments

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PARIS — Three of Europe’s biggest aerospace companies have urged the launch of a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV program, following years in which the continent has dragged its heels over unmanned technology.

“EADS Cassidian, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi, having a common view on the current situation in Europe regarding MALE drones, call for the launch of a European MALE program,” the companies said in a joint statement issued Sunday on the eve of the Paris Air Show.

“Such a joint program would support the capability needs of European armed forces while optimizing the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding,” the statement said.

“EADS Cassidian, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi declare their readiness to coordinate on such a program supporting the security needs of our European governments and armed forces,” it added.

The statement is notable for the fact that the UK’s BAE Systems is not a signatory, given the UK’s 2010 accord with France to work on a range of joint technologies, including UAVs.

BAE has not yet responded to question as to why it has not supported the initiative of EADS, Dassault and Finmeccanica.

The British company has a deal with Dassault to study a possible future MALE, but industry executives say that program appears to be going nowhere.

The MALE machine proposed by BAE and Dassault to the French and UK government, known as Telemos, will be on display at the French company’s exhibit at Le Bourget this week.

A spokesman for Dassault said the proposals were still pending with the two governments “but for the time being they are at a stand still.”

No joint UAV program has yet emerged from the Anglo-French defense treaty and the focus of the bilateral effort is moving more toward development of an unmanned combat air system some time in the future.

Both nations are strapped for cash and the requirement for a European MALE is further clouded by the fact the British and Italians already operate the General Atomics Reaper unmanned system and France is on the verge of ordering the same UAVs for its operation in Mali.

Gen. Denis Mercier, French Air Force chief of staff, told Defense News last week that while an industrial MALE capability in Europe remains relevant, he sees no requirement for such a vehicle until after 2020.

The Anglo-French deal meanwhile prompted Italy and Germany to say they would talk to each other about joint UAV programs, but no concrete results were forthcoming. Italian officials have since spoken about looking outside Europe to find a UAV partner, while Finmeccanica’s strategy head Giovanni Soccodato went as far as warning, on the eve of the Air Show, that Europe had “missed the window” on UAVs.

In their statement, the German, French and Italian firms said that “With a new development, critical requirements around the certification of drones, allowing their safe passage and operation in European air space, would inherently be built into the program from the onset.

“European sovereignty and independence in the management of information and intelligence would be guaranteed while at the same time delivering a robust system resilient against cyber attacks,” it added.

“The program would be orientated to foster the development of high technologies and contribute to sustaining key competencies and jobs within Europe,” it added. ■

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