PARIS — The French Army and the procurement office have selected the Sagem Patroller for the tactical unmanned aerial vehicle over the Thales Watchkeeper, with the pick due to be formally approved at a ministerial investment committee meeting next month, French media reported.
“As part of the program for the tactical drone system which aims to deliver the Army a new tactical drone system, the Patroller from Sagem will win the competition over the Patroller from Thales,” weekly magazine Air & Cosmos reported Jan. 22.
A contract for 14 units, comprising 10 operational aircraft and four for training, is worth some €300 million (US $324 million), with 10 years of maintenance. That contract value compares to the €350 million set aside in the revised multiyear defense budget.
Procurement office Direction générale de l’armement, Safran’s Sagem, and Thales declined comment.
A pick of Patroller could double employment on UAVs at Sagem, which operates a plant at Montluçon, central France, local paper La Montagne reported. The regional paper is distributed in the Auvergne region, which includes the constituency for French President Francois Hollande, a source close to the deal said.
Sagem, which built and maintains the Sperwer interim tactical drone, challenged Thales for the UAV deal, as the Watchkeeper was widely expected to be selected. The Dutch, Canadian and French forces flew Sperwer in Afghanistan.
The Watchkeeper is in service with the British forces and there are close bilateral ties between Paris and London through the Lancaster House treaty on defense cooperation. There has been discussion of a French selection of Watchkeeper paving the way for a British pick of the Nexter VBCI infantry fighting vehicle.
Watchkeeper is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 and is built by a joint venture that is held 49 percent by Thales and 51 percent by Elbit.
Patroller has more than 80 percent French content, while Watchkeeper has around 10 percent, which Thales had pledged to boost to 30 percent, daily Le Monde reported.
Patroller, based on the German Stemme S-15 civilian aircraft, flew from Toulouse, southwest France, in October and November 2014, showing its compliance with European air safety rules. That domestic capability is seen as a key factor.
The Sagem UAV could be armed with laser-targeted rockets and anti-tank MMP medium-range missiles, website La Tribune reported.
Patroller and Watchkeeper were the sole contenders in the tender as Airbus Defence and Space, as well as Israel Aerospace Industries, had decided against entering the competition. Airbus had teamed with Textron to offer the Shadow before opting out.
Frédéric Mazzanti, vice president of Sagem optronics and defense division, outlined at the Paris Air Show last year the Patroller Cluster concept, a plan of industrial cooperation among some 25 French and European companies.
Ecarys/Stemme delivers the aircraft, which will carry a radar and avionics from Selex, he said. Nearly 90 percent of the Patroller is made in France.
Sagem placed the Patroller on ground display at the air show.
In the evaluation, the Army liked the Patroller's high quality visual capability, transmission and capability for a pilot to fly in the aircraft rather than operating as unmanned, Le Monde reported. The UAV can carry a one ton payload and fly for 14 hours, compared to the required eight hours, at a range of 150 km.