Dassault Aviation and British Aerospace are preparing to take the next step towards their promised joint venture to study future combat aircraft technology, with plans to start firming up the terms of their co-operation pact by mid-year.

French ministry of defence procurement chief Jean-Yves Helmer says that the two companies are "advancing rapidly" and that it is "only a question of months" before the new venture is formed, building on the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 1996 pledging joint technical studies.

BAe confirms that the two companies "are moving towards a number of signatures on the MoU by mid-year", adding that technology to upgrade Rafale and Eurofighter will be among the first priorities covered by the new venture.

Work on the MoU has seen recent growth in the number of staff at Dassault and BAe's respective Paris and Warton military aircraft bases. The work is understood to include a series of technical demonstrations aimed at future aircraft to come after the Rafale and Eurofighter, and could, according to sources, lead to agreement to work together on the UK's Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) programme.

This would be aimed at a replacement for the Panavia Tornado GR4 and Dassault Mirage 2000N, and at other piloted or pilotless future attack aircraft, although Dassault Aviation insists that "there is no French requirement for a FOAS aircraft".

Source: Flight International