Frustrated by a continued lack of progress with advancing its Talarion unmanned air system programme, EADS company Cassidian has suggested an alternative funding proposal to planned participants France, Germany and Spain.
Approval to launch an estimated €3 billion ($4.2 billion) effort for development and production of the Talarion has already slipped by around two years. Cuts in defence spending among European governments mean that getting a green light for a major new programme at this time is unlikely, concedes Cassidian chief executive Stefan Zoller.
"Seeing the budget constraints of the nations, we have come up with a stepped approach, where we have proposed to build a prototype to fly at the end of 2013 to 2014," he said during a financial presentation at the company's Unterschleissheim headquarters near Munich on 28 March.
"To build this prototype we are asking right now for €300 million: €100 million per nation, spread over three years. That is something that should be manageable, despite the crisis."
Zoller declined to detail further terms of the offer, or to reveal any requested deadline for a decision.
"We still go full speed ahead with the development, pre-financed with our own money," he said. However, repeating previous ultimatums linked to the scheme, he cautioned: "We can't wait any longer, and we can't self-finance forever."
For the first time, he also hinted at a possible future change to the three-nation construct. Previously named as a potential extra partner for Talarion, Turkey has now earmarked funds to participate. Its involvement could be in addition to, or as a replacement for one of the current planned parties, Zoller said. "We have to see, if one of the other nations may not go along with it, how we may compensate and set up a different scheme."
French firm Dassault and BAE Systems of the UK recently signed an agreement to pursue the joint development of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS, following the nations' signature of a military co-operation agreement late last year. The development raised new questions over the viability of the Talarion programme.
Noting that past studies have identified a possible 17 different military and civilian mission categories for the twin-engined design, Zoller said: "I have no question mark on the reliability of the business case." Cassidian is also "years ahead in terms of technology" when compared with other European companies, he claimed.
Zoller also declined to reveal how much EADS has invested in the Talarion project to date. However, the company's total spend on unmanned technologies - which also include its Barracuda unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator - has already amounted to €500-600 million.