Joint deal to be foundation for next generation of fighters

Dassault Aviation and EADS have signed an agreement laying the foundations for the joint development of Europe's future combat aircraft, be it manned or unmanned, to succeed the Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale and Saab Gripen.

According to the agreement Dassault - 46%-owned by EADS - will be prime contractor for combat air vehicles with or without pilots, the first of which is the proposed pan-European unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator now named Neuron, while EADS will be prime contractor for strategic reconnaissance UAVs, notably the European medium-altitude long-endurance, or Euromale system.

Greece and Sweden have already joined the Neuron project and Spain is now joining through EADS Casa, which will be responsible for developing the wing and part of the ground station. EADS Casa president Francisco Fernández Sáinz says Spanish funding for the demonstrator will be €20-25 million ($24-30 million). However, no memorandum of understanding (MoU) has yet been signed by the French and Spanish governments. "The change of government in Madrid led to some inevitable delays," Fernández says, "but the ministry of defence is interested in taking part in both the Neuron and Euromale and has set up a task force which will lead to the signature of an MoU."

Charles Edelstenne, chief executive of Dassault, stresses the "truly structuring aspect of this agreement for the future: it will enable our two companies to weave a network of crossed and complementary co-operations, laying the basis for coherent development of our military aeronautical industry for the next 20 or 30 years".

As more European governments and industries join the Neuron project so the financial envelope will change. Edelstenne says the original €300 million announced by French defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie is only "a basic figure which we are discussing".

Edelstenne says first flight for the Neuron is set "more or less" for 2008. He says the philosophy behind it is to achieve a totally European product "much cheaper to buy than a manned combat aircraft, notably because its vocation is to be used in situations too dangerous for a manned aircraft".

Eurofighter partner nations Italy and the UK have not signed for Neuron, but Dassault has previously named Alenia as a potential participant and it is understood the latter's parent Finmeccanica is close to signing an agreement.



Source: Flight International