Speaking at Dassault’s annual press conference yesterday, CEO Charles Edelstenne clarified that BAE Systems would be the prime contractor for a joint medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft program under the recently announced memorandum of understanding between the two companies. The MoU follows last November’s Anglo-French inter-governmental agreement.
Should the UK and France give a formal go-ahead, Dassault and BAE estimate the development would cost a total of €1 billion (about $1.3 billion), to be shared equally. BAE would provide its Mantis MALE platform, which first flew last year, while Dassault would be in charge of systems. Thales, which was working with Dassault on its previous IAI Heron-based MALE proposals to the French government, could become a partner after the program gets the green light. BAE Systems and Dassault have already completed a joint MALE study for the two governments.
Concerning the Rafale fighter, Edelstenne confirmed the production rate will stay at 11 per year, which is seen as the minimum viable, for the coming years. The French government was planning to surrender slots from 2012 for export sales to achieve budget savings. However, as no prospect has been turned into an actual contract, the French air force will take all 11 produced Rafales every year, a Dassault spokesperson confirmed to AIN.
During the press conference, Edelstenne was vocal about the future of Thales, in which Dassault has a 26-percent stake. “We will make Thales what I want it to be—the leader in the European defense industry,” he stated. A major goal is to have Thales increasing its share in warship manufacturer DCNS, from 25 percent to 35 percent (as an option allows) and eventually a majority stake.
Edelstenne criticized Thales’ previous management for its “risky commercial policy” and “the losses it caused.” He also denounced a “disinformation campaign” by anonymous sources in the French media.