UAVs Gain Stature while Boeing and EADS Partner on Missile Defense

 - May 6, 2008, 4:22 AM

The defense facet of Farnborough 2002 was focused on new technology to be deployed in the war on terror. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)–once an obscure sideshow–moved to center stage. Though confined to the static display line, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk surveillance platform–as proven in the recent Afghanistan conflict drew a lot of attention. So, too, did the company’s new Fire Scout unmanned helicopter and Lockheed Martin’s Predator.

The message was clear: UAVs, and eventually unmanned combat air vehicles, will play vital part in future warfare–conceivably as soon as the coming fall months in the widely anticipated assault on Iraq. In fact, the ascent of the UAV is such that organizers of the Paris Air Show are looking into how they could be permitted to participate in the flying display.

“The point at issue is to have several safety redundancies on the drone, in case the ground-to-air control link is broken,” Fabrice Galzin, marketing director of Salons Internationaux de l’ Aeronautique et de l’Espace told AIN.

Arguably the biggest breaking defense news at the show was the fact that Boeing and European Aeronautics Defence & Space (EADS, Airbus’ majority shareholder) have put aside their great rivalry in the commercial aviation arena to cooperate in the controversial ballistic missile defense program being championed by the Bush Administration. This is the first partnering agreement at a corporate level between these giants and, under the same framework, Boeing also signed memorandums of understanding with Italy’s Alenia Spazio and BAE Systems of the UK.

Military Aircraft Debut

There were three military debutantes at this year’s Farnborough: Aero Vodochovy’s L139B twin-seat jet trainer from the Czech Republic; the AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 naval
helicopter; and Pilatus’ PC-21 single turboprop trainer.

France’s Dassault Aviation continued its policy of keeping its Rafale and Mirage 2000 combat airplanes back on its own side of the Channel, leaving the show bragging rights to the rival Eurofighter. Dassault’s argument has been that it has no prospects of selling its fighters to the UK. Whether intentionally or otherwise, this is something of an insult to the stature of the Farnborough show since it implies that bowler-hat-clad Ministry of Defence officials from London’s Whitehall are the only military shoppers at the event.

In any case, the Eurofighter was certainly able to make a big splash with three development models flying together with the first instrumented production aircraft. The consortium behind the aircraft (BAE Systems and EADS) also confirmed that the launch customer, Britain’s Royal Air Force, will adopt the Typhoon name already used for export versions. However, it also had to acknowledge a delay in the first delivery until December, dashing earlier expectations that the official handover would be achieved in time for Farnborough.