French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said a French version of the IAI Heron TP will serve as the country’s Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) surveillance UAV from 2014 until 2020, when it will be replaced by the Anglo-French Telemos system. The long-deferred decision seems to end any prospect of a quick start for Telemos, which partner companies BAE Systems and Dassault have said could be delivered within five years of a go-ahead. The UK has already decided to invest more than $200 million to buy five more Reaper UAVs from the U.S. to meet short-term requirements, and move their mission control from Nevada to the UK.
Dassault will be prime contractor for the “F-Heron-TP,” with about 10 other French companies also involved, according to Longuet. However, a Thales spokesperson told AIN that “it’s too early to say” what role the company could play. In the previous “Système de Drone MALE” (SDM) proposal to France and Spain based on the Heron TP, in which they teamed with Dassault, Thales and Indra would have provided an active-array SAR/GMTI radar. But an analysis by the French Ministry of Defense last year concluded that the SDM proposal was too expensive, although it offered sovereignty advantages over a direct purchase from Israel or Predator/Reaper UAVs from the U.S. It seems possible that France, now going it alone, might settle for Israeli sensors and a French communications and systems architecture.
That is the sensor/communications combination currently employed by France within the “Système Intérimaire de Drone MALE” (SIDM). This was provided by EADS and uses the smaller IAI Heron UAV. Four air vehicles and two ground stations have been acquired. The French Air Force has deployed two of the UAVs and a ground station to Afghanistan since the end of 2008. Longuet told French newspaper Les Echos that the new MALE system would consist of seven Heron TPs and two ground stations.