PARIS ― Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters are to launch a technology study for a helicopter drone for the French Navy’s heavily armed ships.

“The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) signed Dec. 29, 2017, a contract with Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters for a study which prepares for the future capability of tactical drones with a vertical take-off from French Navy ships (the Navy Airborne Drone System),” the DGA procurement office said Jan. 11 in a statement.

A DGA spokesman declined to provide the contract’s value.

The target is to have a demonstrator with mature technology by mid-2021, DGA said. The demonstrator program includes flights from a frigate.

Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters will work with Hélicoptères Guimbal, a small to medium-sized company that builds the two-seat Cabri G2 light helicopter, the DGA said.

Thales as well as Safran Electronics & Defense will also work on the project, drawing on technology and capabilities on fixed-wing drones acquired through research requested by the procurement office since 2005, the DGA said. Other small and medium companies, mostly French, will be involved.

“The contract covers de-risking studies ahead of construction of a future tactical helicopter drone demonstrator aboard warships,” Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters said in a joint statement. The project aims to conduct trials of the airborne vehicle, launch and mission systems, working on a French Navy vessel. Onera, the aerospace research office, is one of the main subcontractors.

Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters will act as the program design authority, the two companies said.

The naval UAV is expected to enter service around 2025 on the FTI intermediate frigate and other French Navy warships.

Airbus Helicopters has developed its VSR700 naval drone based on the Cabri G2, while Naval Group has worked on integrating that unmanned helicopter onto warship systems.

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