Anglo-French UCAV Program Gets Green Light

 - February 1, 2014, 8:02 AM
France and the UK are pressing ahead with a feasibility study for a future unmanned combat air system.

During the Anglo-French summit held January 31 in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande, together with their respective defense ministers Philip Hammond and Jean-Yves Le Drian, announced a series of new defense deals, building on the greater cooperation between the countries outlined in the 2010 Lancaster House agreement. Leading the new announcements was the go-ahead for a £120 million ($198 million) joint feasibility phase for an unmanned future combat air system.

Both France (along with other European partners) and the UK have built and flown technology demonstrators of stealthy unmanned combat air vehicles in the forms of the Dassault-led Neuron program and the BAE Systems Taranis. Results from both these projects will feed into the new, two-year demonstration program preparation phase. It is likely to also involve Selex ES, Rolls-Royce, Thales and Snecma, among others.

Another key announcement made after the summit, held at the Royal Air Force’s Brize Norton base, concerned a memorandum of understanding covering the £500 million ($825 million) joint purchase of an Anglo-French anti-ship missile being developed by MBDA. Known to the French as the Anti-Navire Légère and to the UK as the Future Anti-Ship Guided Weapon (Heavy), the weapon is expected to see its first application in the AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat, which is shortly to enter service with the Royal Navy. The UK has been ready to commit to FASGW(H) for some time, but France had hitherto delayed joint procurement while it debated future defense plans.

Greater sharing of training and operational experience was also underlined in a new agreement under which RAF aircrew and engineers will gain experience on the Airbus A400M airlifter in France before delivery of the UK’s first aircraft later this year. French air force crews, in turn, will gain experience with the RAF’s Airbus A330 Voyager fleet before France receives its own tanker/transport aircraft.