Britain and France Launch UCAV Feasibility Study

 - July 16, 2014, 1:45 AM
British Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond (right) and his French counterpart Jean-Yves le Drian signed an agreement to launch a two-year study on unmanned combat aircraft.

In his last act as British Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves le Drian, signed an agreement at the Farnborough Airshow yesterday to launch a two-year co-operative feasibility study for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) deal is worth £120 million (more than $180 million) for six industry partners: BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation, Rolls-Royce, Safran, Selex and Thales.

The outline plan for the FCAS co-operation was announced by the two countries last January, following a “pre-study” by airframers BAE Systems and Dassault, which was launched in mid-2012. The new study will additionally involve teaming by Rolls-Royce and Safran subsidiary Snecma on the powerplant and by Selex ES and Thales on a multifunction sensor suite and communications.

The work is due to start this Fall, and will be informed by the experience gained by France and the UK with the Neuron and Taranis UCAV demonstrators, respectively.

Hammond, who has just been appointed as UK Foreign Secretary in a government reshuffle, said that an Anglo-French relationship “is essential to how we operate in the future.”

Le Drian said that FCAS “is an historical opportunity for France and the UK to shape and sustain in the long term, a strong, innovative and sovereign combat aircraft industry.”

The two ministers also signed an MoU for co-operation to upgrade and refurbish the MBDA Scalp-EG (France) and Storm Shadow (UK) air-launched cruise missiles.

Hammond told AIN that other countries could “possibly” join the FCAS program later. “We discussed this from the outset, but agreed that a bilateral partnership was the most pragmatic way to get things done quickly and effectively.”

In a joint statement Eric Trappier, chairman and CEO of Dassault and Ian King, CEO of BAE Systems, said the agreement “provides a joint roadmap for co-operation between our companies that could ultimately lead to a joint FCAS program in the future.” The two companies are deadly rivals on the current-generation Rafale and Typhoon combat aircraft, which an FCAS might replace in the 2030s. It should be noted that no hardware is funded yet. Hammond said yesterday that any follow-on to the FCAS feasibility study would be considered in next year’s defense review.

Coincidentally, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce briefed here yesterday on progress with the all-British Taranis UCAV demonstrator. A second series of flight tests have been conducted, this time with the air vehicle in full ‘stealth’ configuration. For a full report see tomorrow’s edition of Farnborough Airshow News.