New lines have been drawn in the European unmanned air vehicle sector, with German and Italian companies having joined forces in response to a pact signed by rival manufacturers in France and the UK late last year.
The alliance between Alenia Aeronautica and EADS defence arm Cassidian was confirmed on 14 December, when the partners said they are to "jointly investigate potential cooperation in the field of medium-altitude, long-endurance [MALE] unmanned aerial systems and unmanned combat air vehicles [UCAVs]".
By joining forces with Alenia, Cassidian has strengthened its long-running campaign to advance the Talarion air vehicle design for a range of military surveillance roles. The MALE concept was created to meet the operational needs of France, Germany and Spain, but has so far failed to secure a launch order. Cassidian is self-funding development activities, and has also previously flown the Barracuda UCAV demonstrator.
Although their joint statement said the companies will "analyse the requirements expressed by each of their respective governments", Cassidian chief operating officer Bernhard Gerwert singled out the Talarion as a potential solution. A first prototype should be flown in 2015, with operational systems to be delivered starting in 2018, the company said.
Alenia's investment in unmanned systems technologies has included flight test campaigns with MALE and UCAV demonstrators, respectively named Sky-Y and Sky-X. It is also involved in the Dassault-led Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle demonstration programme, which should achieve flight status during 2012.
Formalised under a memorandum of understanding, the new industrial development pits Alenia and Cassidian against France's Dassault and BAE Systems of the UK in collaborating on unmanned air vehicles. Initially linked to the Telemos project, the Anglo-French pact could lead to the delivery of operational MALE systems in the 2015-2020 timeframe, before also later encompassing a UCAV development.