The UK and French armed forces will collaborate more closely in future - particularly in the deployment and development of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) - following an agreement in Paris today between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Cameron said the new strategic partnership on UAVs was aimed at enabling the two nations to build a shared "sovereign capability", including the development of a new unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV).
Since 2011, industrial representatives from France and the UK - Dassault and BAE Systems - have been working jointly on the development of a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV. Cameron said the partnership would be deepened with the placing of a "jointly-funded contract" to study the technical risks of developing the system.
"We look forward to taking further decisions jointly in the light of the outcomes of this risk-reduction phase to ensure that our respective sovereign requirements will be met in a cost-effective manner," said Cameron.
France will also begin evaluating the UK's Thales Watchkeeper UAV in 2012, with the process running until next year.
In addition, the nations will in 2013 create a demonstration programme for a UCAV. Specifications for the system will be finalised in 2012, with the project to be led by BAE Systems and Dassault.
"This work will provide a framework to mature the relevant technologies and operational concepts for a UCAV operating in a high-threat environment," Cameron said.
Meanwhile, France and the UK will continue their joint preparations for the entry into service of the Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft. A contract will be negotiated with the manufacturer to ensure "integrated support" is in place to coincide with the arrival of the first French aircraft in 2013.
Munitions, too, will be a focus of increased collaboration. Cameron said in 2012 a joint assessment phase will begin to look at potential enhancements to MBDA Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles. Further, Cameron said a memorandum of understanding and contract would be signed in the coming months for the development of a Future Anti-Ship Guided Weapon.
Victor Chavez, chief executive of Thales UK, said: "UAVs have played a fundamental role in military operations in recent years, and it is only natural that they now also take centre stage in international defence agreements. The UK and France want to remain leaders in the use of UAVs, and working together on Watchkeeper would ensure both have the best intelligence capabilities without duplicating the costs."