France and the UK signed MoUs for the first phase of a Future Combat Air System (FCAS) based on a UCAV, and for industrial and military cooperation on the Watchkeeper tactical UAV. But although British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond reported “excellent progress on UAVs” after a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, no agreement was reached on joint-study funding for a Male UAV. In fact, the Watchkeeper cooperation was agreed at the previous cross-channel defence ministers’ meeting last February. That meeting also looked forward to the timely signing of a Male study contract with BAE Systems and Dassault.
A UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson told AIN that the FCAS MoU will “lay the foundations” for two studies involving French and British industry. The work will explore options and provide more detailed costs. The two countries remain committed to a joint Male capability “that would be coherent with the aims of the Lancaster House treaties,” the spokesperson added. Those treaties, signed in 2010, set the terms of unprecedented bilateral defense cooperation between France and the UK.
BAE Systems had previously suggested that the two countries were ready to make progress on the Telemos project derived from BAE’s Mantis Male UAV. But Le Drian is reported to favor bringing the German and Italian governments and industry into the project. The MoD said after the meeting, “The UK and France are determined to set the pace in Europe to deliver their future capability requirements, and the ministers agreed that cooperation on specific programs may include other close allies with similar capability and contribution, when practical and feasible.”
Thales said that France will evaluate the Watchkeeper system this year and next. Pierre Eric Pommellet, senior v-p of Thales Defence Mission Systems, said that collaboration will offer “shared support costs and joint development of enhancements to what is already one of the world’s most advanced tactical UAV systems.” Technical problems have delayed the system’s entry into UK service. Thales UK chief executive Victor Chavez said that more than 400 flight trials have “clearly demonstrated its utility as a highly capable intelligence-gathering asset.”