Manufacturers form "open" alliance to take advantage of surge in demand for unmanned aircraft

Dassault Aviation and Sagem areco-operating on the developmentof tactical unmanned air vehicles (UAV) with the "clear intention" of eventually forming a UAV joint venture.

The two companies had been competing for a number of French unmanned system programmes, but Dassault says the aim is now to design fast, stealthy UAVs and to fly a full-scale demonstrator before the end of next year.

"We do not want to waste any time because the market is clearly demanding new UAV products," Dassault says. The French defence procurement budget has €43million ($38 million) earmarked for multi-mission, multi-payload UAVs.

Charles Edelstenne, Dassault chief executive, told French newspaper Le Monde last week that the company is joining Sagem rather than EADS - a 45.9% Dassault shareholder - because of "the greater synergies with Sagem".

Dassault declines to go into detail about the partners' investment, but says that the joint venture when formed "will not be a closed alliance and will be open to any other interested parties".

Sagem has sold its Sperwer UAV system to Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Sweden and also offers the Crecerelle and the Ugglan as well as the Hesis for civilian applications. New systems will be interoperable with existing Sagem UAVs, say the partners.

Sagem intends to concentrate on ground control systems while Dassault will be responsible forair vehicles. They also aim to optimise the complementary nature of manned aircraft and UAVs, says Dassault.

The company's unmanned work has centred on the company-funded development of the Duc family of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs).

It flew the smallest family member, the Petit Duc, in July 2000. The 60kg (130lb) UCAV has a 2.4m (7.8ft) span delta wing. When it was unveiled 18 months ago, Dassault said a medium-range UCAV, the Moyen Duc, would appear two years later.

The company says Moyen Duc will be completed by a Dassault/Sagem team and will resemble the smaller UCAV but weigh more than 500kg.

Source: Flight International