PARIS — Britain and France have agreed to pursue a £1.5 billion (US $2.1 billion) program to build an unmanned combat air vehicle, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday at a bilateral summit with French President François Hollande.

The two countries decided "to jointly invest" to build the most advanced combat air system in Europe, Cameron told a joint news conference at Amiens, northern France. The work would support jobs and expertise in Britain and France.

Since the 2010 Lancaster House defense agreement "there has been much progress, much common willingness, which have also been translated into programs," Hollande said.

French authorities also agreed to consider an order for the MBDA Brimstone guided missile to arm the Tiger attack helicopter and Britain will provide a monthly strategic airlift to support French troops deployed in Africa, the British Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

The bilateral agreement was for a £1.54 billion project "to build a prototype of the next generation of unmanned aircraft," the ministry said. Full scale development of prototypes is due start in 2017.

The future combat air system project is based on a £120 million feasibility study conducted by BAE Systems, Finmeccanica Airborne and Space Systems Division, and Rolls-Royce work on the British side, with Dassault Aviation, Safran's Snecma, and Thales on the French side. The 2014 bilateral summit announced the feasibility study, which was equally funded by Britain and France.

Defense ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Michael Fallon agreed the cooperative projects at the summit meeting, also attended by the interior and foreign ministers.

"Brimstone missile would be a significant option for the upgrade of their Tiger attack helicopters," Fallon said in a statement.

A French decision to pick the Sagem Patroller as a tactical UAV for the French Army over the Thales Watchkeeper had irritated the British authorities, business website La Tribune reported.

The Anglo-French 2010 Lancaster House defense treaty sought to boost bilateral cooperation on the operational and industrial front.

That cooperation at an operational level reached a new high when the British Ministry of Defence announced Feb. 24 that it was conducting an officer swap with the French Army not seen since World War I. A senior French officer is set to become deputy commander of the 1st (United Kingdom) Division, the British Army's light role adaptable force.

At the same time a British Army colonel is heading in the opposite direction to become deputy commander of the French equivalent , the EMF1 ( Etat-major de force).

A separate move will see a French general join the senior ranks of the British military. An MoD spokesman said there were presently no details on the move.

The meeting between Hollande and Cameron at Amiens marked a 100-year commemoration of the battle of the Somme during the World War I, when British and French troops led an allied attack on the German front line. The fighting left some 600,000 dead and wounded.


Andrew Chuter contributed from London.


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