> our title:

French Officials Detail French-UK UAV Plans

> original title:

French Officials Flesh Out French-UK UAV Plans

(Source: defense-unmanned.com; published Feb. 23, 2012)

PARIS --- Speaking during and after DGA’s annual results press conference on Feb. 22, Lauren Collet-Billon, head of the Direction Générale de l’Armement, and other procurement officials provided details of ongoing unmanned programs.

-- The French army fully intends to buy the Watchkeeper UAV developed by Thales UK for the British Army, but this will be preceded by an in-depth evaluation. French army crews will train in Britain this year to operate the system, and will then evaluate Watchkeeper on French territory next year, with a view to awarding a procurement contract by late 2013.

-- Two contracts will be awarded as part of Anglo-French cooperation on UAVs. The first, worth about 50 million euros, will cover the assessment phase of the MALE drone, whose service introduction is planned around 2020. This contract will be awarded by France’s DGA on behalf of both countries, and will be overseen by a joint project office based at MoD’s procurement wing in Bristol

The goal is to firm up the project’s specifications, the industrial framework – including subcontractors and suppliers - and the development and production plans so the manufacturers will submit an offer for a fixed-price development contract by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

-- The second contract, worth about 10 million euros, will fund the initial specifications of the UCAS combat drone. It will define an unmanned combat aircraft that will follow on to the Neuron demonstrator project managed by Dassault Aviation.

-- Collet-Billon was dismissive of a future role for EADS in French UAV programs. When asked if the company and DGA were still talking on the subject, he noted that EADS had provided French forces with the Harfang UAV, “and we are in constant dialogue at least on this subject.”

-- France has not dropped plans for a rotary-winged UAV, which the French army initially preferred to a fixed-wing design, but this will instead go to the Navy. Larger ships will operate the NH90 helicopter, but there is a need for a rotary-winged UAV to provide a reconnaissance and surveillance capability for ships that have limited available deck space, Collet-Billon said.

-- Orders are imminent for minirobots and drones to equip French army combat engineer units, which will use them for itinerary reconnaissance and clearing.