France and Germany Sign MALE UAV Pact

 - September 14, 2012, 1:10 PM
The Talarion MALE UAV proposed by EADS appeared in model form again at the ILA Berlin airshow, this time labeled as “European UAS.” (Photo: Chris Pocock)

On the day after the merger talks between EADS and BAE Systems became public this week, the French and German governments signed a cooperation agreement on future medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs. The two nations will develop a common operational requirement, and may also jointly operate an interim solution. Both countries currently fly the Israeli Heron 1 system in Afghanistan, but their respective air forces have been pressing for a replacement. France has considered but not confirmed the larger Heron TP, to be provided by Dassault Aviation. At the ILA Berlin airshow this week, Rheinmetall (now an EADS subsidiary) displayed a model of the Heron TP but declined to discuss with AIN its proposal to supply this UAV to the German armed forces. Meanwhile, both France and Germany have been considering a purchase of Reaper UAVs from General Atomics in the U.S.

Opposite the Heron TP in the static park at Berlin was the full-scale model of the Talarion MALE UAV proposed by EADS, now labeled “European UAS.” This week’s French statement referred to a “possible European solution” and expressed the hope that the forthcoming Franco-German work on “the structures and processes necessary to launch this project” would be “in accord” with the earlier Anglo-French defense co-operation treaty. Britain and France had been expected to sign a cooperation agreement on MALE UAVs at their last meeting in July, but it was not forthcoming. An agreement on UCAVs was signed instead.

Notwithstanding bilateral talks and MoUs, the prospect of a pan-European collaboration on MALE UAVs has been brought closer by the EADS merger with BAE Systems. Such an outcome has always been the EADS agenda, but the company has been frustrated by the lack of political will and funding. Meanwhile, BAE Systems has favored going-it-alone or, since funds are tight, bilateral cooperation with the French. But if France and Germany commit to the Heron TP or the Reaper in the next few months, and the UK takes its already-fielded Reapers into the core defense budget, it is not clear how the governments can justify the launch of an expensive all-European solution as early as 2013-14. Italy also already operates Reapers.