The prototype of the Neuron drone flies last year above the military airport in Istres, in southeastern France. The model was created by France's Dassault Aviation. (AFP/Dassault Aviation)
LONDON AND PARIS — BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation have submitted proposals to the British and French governments to jointly develop an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator, according to the UK Defence Ministry.
The companies recently completed a 15-month preparation phase contract awarded by the two nations’ defense ministries, and have now lodged details of a plan to mature and demonstrate critical technology and operational aspects for a future combat air system.
British defense procurement minister Philip Dunne and his French counterpart, Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the Direction Générale de l’Armement, will consider the proposals during a mid-December meeting.
A French source said the meeting is “important” and part of a dialogue between the two governments aimed at a contract award for the next phase of work in 2014.
“A decision is not expected at the [December] meeting,” the French source said.
The high-level working group, which includes other high-level officials, will study the industry proposals for the planned program, along with other bilateral cooperation issues.
Britain and France signed a defense treaty in 2010, which included plans to collaborate on a number of equipment programs across missiles, UAVs, maritime equipment and other sectors.
Plans to co-develop a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned surveillance machine have been pretty much sidelined, with the focus instead on building skills and capabilities in the UCAV sector.
Britain’s MoD, in written evidence on remotely piloted air systems supplied recently to Britain’s parliamentary defense committee, said the government would have to make a strategic capability decision on a future combat air system as part of its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
“The next phase of the program is important to de-risk critical technologies to underpin SDSR ’15 decision making,” the evidence said.
The two European nations are examining their options for next-generation combat air systems after the Rafale and Typhoon fighter jets are due to come out of service in the 2030 timeframe, the documents said.
A British Ministry of Defence spokesperson, though, said it is “too early to provide specific timescales for the future combat air system. We are currently assessing joint proposals received by BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, and will make a strategic capability decision at the next SDSR.”
Both the British and the French are flight-testing technology demonstrator vehicles, but the new proposal foresees eventually building a jointly developed aircraft to assess operational issues.
The British decided to go it alone on their demonstrator, known as Taranis. But the French Neuron program is a collaborative effort that includes Greek, Italian, Spanish, Swiss and Swedish involvement.
The British MoD disclosed to the parliamentary defense committee that the BAE-led Taranis UCAV had recently flown for the first time. The flight test program is ongoing.
An MoD spokesman declined to give further details.
This year, industry sources said test flights of the 8-ton Taranis would take place at the remote Woomera test site in Australia.
On France’s Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator, some 85 flights are planned at the Istres test center in southern France until autumn 2014, said prime contractor Dassault Aviation.
Neuron then will go to the Vidsel test range in Sweden for pre-operational trials, and will later be sent to the Perdadesfogu range in Italy for tests, particularly on firing and stealth assessment, Dassault said.
Neuron restarted test flights at Istres after appearing at the Paris Air Show in June.